High Court gives Catalan govt fortnight for schools to start teaching 25% of classes in Spanish

Generalitat announces an appeal while judges give Spanish Ministry of Education inspectors powers to "verify" compliance with the ruling

4 min
The Palace of Justice of Barcelona, which houses the headquarters of the High Court of Justice of Catalonia, in an archive image.

BarcelonaCatalonia's High Court has ordered the forced execution of its own ruling forcing schools across Catalonia to teach at least 25% of classes in Spanish. The judges compel Catalan Education minister Josep Gonzàlez-Cambray to "dictate instructions and establish necessary checks" so that in a fortnight "all students are effectively and immediately taught" 25% of classes in Spanish. The judges consider that in order to guarantee "the normal classroom use" of both languages, students have to teach Spanish "and another core subject" in this language.

Therefore, the measures the Catalan government announced to counter the ruling have been of no use. Neither the decree the Education Department is preparing, nor the reform of linguistic policy law in Parliament, nor the survey of Catalan schools to find out about real usage of Catalan and Spanish are sufficient for the judges: "The initiatives deployed by the Generalitat do not have a concrete result today in schools' activity", the order states, which emphasises that the Catalan Government has to guarantee exactly what the ruling states: education in Catalan and Spanish. Catalan Education minister Josep Gonzàlez-Cambray appeared urgently to explain the Government will appeal what he considers to be an "aberrant" ruling and asks schools to be "calm" and "not change anything" in their linguistic projects.

In the text –written in Catalan and full of linguistic mistakes– judges do not refer to school boards at any time, and make "the High Inspectorate for Education" responsible for enforcing the ruling. This body depends on the Spanish Ministry of Education and will have to "verify compliance" and inform the High Court of the steps taken by the Generalitat. Answering a question from ARA, the ministry has stated that the High Inspectorate for Education has a staff of two in Catalonia, who would have to police a total of 5,459 Catalan schools.

Administrative law professor at UdG Josep Maria Aguirre claims this puts the Spanish government "in the centre of the conflict". Until now the State Attorney's Office had taken a back seat in the proceedings and, despite the fact that it was the Spanish executive (under the PP) that had started the lawsuit, the coalition government has not requested the sentence be executed. In fact, in their most recent brief to the Catalan High Court, State lawyers urged the court to evaluate "the degree of compliance" with the measures announced by the Catalan government before the execution was demanded.

Now it will be Spanish ministry inspectors who will have to report on compliance. Nevertheless, Aguirre warns the High Court's resolution brings in a third player, the Assembly for a Bilingual School, who will now become a new party in the procedure. In the event that one or the other detects that the Generalitat is not carrying out the court order, the Public Prosecutor's Office could be forced into starting criminal proceedings for contempt of court. "We are going headfirst into a conflict," Aguirre predicts.

"Freedom" for how to mandate 25%

In its resolution, the magistrates already advance the Generalitat is not complying with the sentence issued by the same court on December 16, 2020. And although it states the Generalitat has "freedom" to decide both "the way to mandate" and "the content" of the instructions it gives schools, the Catalan High Court makes it very clear it wants proof the Education Department is complying with the sentence: "The choice of the means to guarantee the ruling's outcome is within the Generalitat's powers, but it is not free not to act and allow a situation which is contrary to the constitutional mandate". "What is decisive in the order is not the means, but the result," the judges say, who insist: "What we find against is the lack of activity dictating the necessary rules or instructions."

Aguirre explains that the 2020 ruling was already very "precise" in this regard and gave the Generalitat little "room" to manoeuvre, which at most could have "argued" for a different percentage and set "an alternative date," the UdG professor explains. Now the court insists the ruling must be obeyed, even though it leaves it up to the Education Department's discretion how it will carry it out, whether it is through a decree or a direct order from Cambray. In fact, the magistrates already advance that there is no need for legal changes and consider it is enough to start giving schools "internal service instructions" and, later on, propose "innovations" or normative changes in Parliament. Cambray considers the High Court has "exceeded its functions" because, by ordering an "instruction" to schools it no longer simply demands the ruling be obeyed but also mandates how it must be carried out. "The legal services of the Generalitat had never encountered a case like this," he said.

Two dissenting votes

The court forced the ruling to be executed because it was requested by the Assembly for a Bilingual School, which the judges have now acknowledged as an affected party. On the other hand, the Catalan High Court dismissed the same request made by some members of Parliament and far-right party Vox for "lack of legitimacy". Even so, the resolution includes a dissenting vote subscribed by two of the five judges. who disagree over admitting any student as a legitimate affected party. According to these two judges, as the sentence does not affect a specific school but the entire educational system, individual students cannot be accepted as parties in the lawsuit.

For Aguirre, the judges' dissenting opinion raises a "secondary" issue which is the legitimacy of third parties, but it does not question that the Generalitat must comply with the ruling and schools teach 25% of classes in Spanish. On the other hand, Cambray believes dissenting votes question the legitimacy of the Assembly for a Bilingual School to be part of the case and has said that this, together with the fact that the judges have "exceeded" their functions, is what the Government will allege in its appeal for reconsideration. If the Catalan High Court dismisses the appeal, the Catalan government may yet make a cassation appeal to the Supreme Court. The court battle will be long and highly conditioned by political moves. What will the Spanish government tell its inspectors assigned in Catalonia? Will the court's ultimatum facilitate an agreement to modify the linguistic policy law? In the meantime, schools are very concerned: the Christian School Foundation has insisted on reforming regulations now to avoid leaving school boards "totally unprotected".