Garzón and the Spanish judicial autarchy

2 min
Judge Baltasar Garzón in the Parliament of Catalonia, in an archive image. Photograph of July 18, 2017

BarcelonaSpanish justice has once again been disavowed by international bodies, and this time the cause has not been the Catalan independence bid but its actions with one of its best-known judges, Baltasar Garzón. The United Nations Human Rights Committee, the same that called for the release of Catalan political prisoners, has ruled that the conviction of Judge Baltasar Garzón for prevarication was "arbitrary". In a resolution issued on 13 July and communicated on Wednesday, the body obliges Spain to erase the criminal record of the magistrate and to compensate him adequately for the damage suffered. Thus, this group of the UN argues that Garzon should not have been convicted or disqualified for having tapped the communications of prisoners and lawyers in the Gürtel case.

It should be recalled that Garzón was convicted and disqualified for this reason in 2012, which caused him to abandon the delicate investigation of the Gürtel case. At the same time, he was also tried to be condemned for having declared himself competent to investigate the crimes of Francoism, but he was finally acquitted. The opinion of the United Nations is devastating and lists all the irregularities of his judicial process. Most blatantly, one of the judges who convicted him, Luciano Varela (who later became a judge on the Catalan independence bid tribunal), advised the lawyers who filed briefs against Garzón, which, according to the Committee, proves that Garzón's right to be tried by an impartial tribunal was violated. Sound familiar?

The operation to remove Judge Garzón when he was investigating Gürtel and, above all, the crimes of Francoism was an operation of the right wing of the judiciary and of what we could call the deep state to prevent the justice system from challenging the Spanish transition to Democracy narrative and calling into question the status quo. Therefore, PP got rid of an uncomfortable character, although this did not prevent them from being convicted of corruption years later, in May 2018. That sentence provoked Pedro Sánchez's vote of no confidence and meant the end of Mariano Rajoy's government.

The fact is that Spanish justice is accumulating more and more setbacks and international disrepute. Surely, its mistake was not calculating that getting rid of a judge like Garzón, who became an international star and a pioneer in the application of international jurisdiction in the wake of the Pinochet case, would have long-term consequences. This resolution comes, however, at a time when it has already become clear that Spanish democracy has a serious problem with justice, it is politically biased and that, in the case of the Catalan independence bid, it has collected defeat after defeat in the international arena. Let's remember that this Thursday Scottish justice has declared itself not competent to extradite Clara Ponsatí with the argument that the MEP now lives in Brussels.

The Spanish government should take note of the UN's position in order to make its demands effective, but everything suggests that the judiciary will bunker down and continue to ignore what happens outside Spanish borders, in a kind of judicial autarchy.