Lawsuits over non-payment of rent threaten to overwhelm Barcelona courts
President of Barcelona Court of Appeals calls for more staff
BarcelonaAfter the pandemic hit, the courts were expecting a wave of lawsuits for unfair dismissals and business closures. Yet this is not quite what happened: "There has been an increase in these matters, but not as much we expected," president of Barcelona's Court of Appeal, Antonio Recio, explains. On the other hand, the effects of the economic crisis caused by the pandemic been more noticeable in first instance courts, which have seen an increased volume of lawsuits over non-payment of rents.
Between 2019 and 2021 these procedures have increased by 10,000, reaching 69,291 in 2021. According to Recio, most of them originate in "real estate conflicts". "There will be a delay in response time," he acknowledged. That is why Barcelona's Court of Appeal, with the support of the General Council of the Judiciary, has asked for more temporary staff to reinforce these courts. Yet the Ministry of Justice has rejected this due to lack of budget. Recio believes that 17 new courts would be needed in Barcelona province, between first instance courts and first instance and instruction courts.
The Court of Appeal's warning about the increase in court cases over non-payment of rent comes shortly after Catalonia's High Court warned that the end of the moratorium established by the Spanish government could result in 6,000 evictions in Catalonia. Finally, Pedro Sánchez's government has once again extended the moratorium until December 31. Nevertheless, during 2021 there were 9,398 evictions in Catalonia, according to the latest available official data. This means that on average 26 families lost their homes every day, most of them for non-payment of rent. The first quarter of this 2022 there have been 2,410 evictions, 1,684 of which were in Barcelona province.
Delays in civil proceedings
Courts of first instance are not the only institutions in need of back up. The Court of Appeal also requested the creation of eight new positions in the criminal sections of the Court of Appeal, two in the civil sections and four new criminal courts in Barcelona. The processing of a civil proceeding in Barcelona takes about two years on average, but Recio warns that without judges to reinforce the sections and courts it could take up to three or four years.
Another area of concern is criminal proceedings. The impact of the successive waves of the pandemic has forced the suspension of dozens of trials in Barcelona and this has meant that many cases are still pending trial. In fact, the waiting time has tripled: until now Barcelona's Court of Appeal set trial dates two or three months away, whereas now it is already stting some hearings for the spring of 2023.
Recio has pointed out that the solution is not only to have more judges to share the workload. They also need space. In this sense, he has explained that the Catalan Department of Justice is searching for other spaces in the city of Barcelona to be able to hold big trials. Currently, the only available space is the Ciutat de la Justícia's auditorium. However, according to Recio, there are increasingly large numbers of big cases with dozens of defendants who come to trial and this space is too small.