Judges in Navarra and the regional branches of four Spanish judicial associations published the following statement in defence of the rule of law and the separation of powers on Monday, after Justice Minister Rafael Catalá told a radio programme that "everyone knows" Judge Ricardo González "has a peculiar problem".
The rule of law is based on respect for the law and the application of it by the judges and magistrates who make up the judiciary; trust and respect for institutions are fundamental for a democratic society.
As members of one of the three branches of government, judges' and magistrates' decisions are subject to public criticism but this criticism cannot include personal disqualifications, insults, acts of force or coercion.
Judicial independence guarantees the submission of judges and magistrates only to the rule of law, which comes from the people via parliament, and in no case may it depart from that law and act according to prejudice, parallel judgment or pressure; guaranteeing that respect for the law is much more important than the reproaches our work might cause in society because only in this way will we guarantee a functioning rule of law. That respect for the law is what underlines each and every one of the rulings that are handed down every day in the courts where citizens resolve their problems.
It is understandable that public opinion may not understand or share the ruling from the provincial court. It is admissible and even desirable for debate to arise over the way the Spanish Criminal Code describes crimes against sexual freedom, the terms that are used to define the different behaviours, and even the need to adapt the content of those precepts to today's social reality. This is the work that must be carried out by parliament from where the laws we judges apply emanate.
But the legitimate exercising of the right to criticise judicial decisions does not cover coercion or the use of violence to disagree with those decisions, much less threats or the slander of those who, whilst carrying out their constitutional duties, have written a ruling.
The judgment of the provincial court, after holding a trial governed by the constitutional principles of defence and contradiction, has thoroughly analysed the evidence, recorded proven facts and concluded with properly motivated legal reasoning. People might agree with this legal reasoning, which is very complex, or not, and for this reason our system also allows for appeals that reviewing the decision to confirm or modify it. Which is to say, two higher courts, the Civil & Criminal Chamber of the Regional High Court of Navarra and the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court will be able to review all of those matters about which there is disagreement.
Respect for judicial independence is essential for guaranteeing social peace, democratic coexistence and respect for fundamental rights, which is especially necessary from the other two branches of government, that is, the representatives of national sovereignty and the members of the government. It is inadmissible that people with political responsibilities use this judgement to try to discredit the judiciary, to violate the separation of powers or to launch baseless tirades.
The attitude of the Justice Minister, Mr. Catalá, is especially scandalous, the only minister in our democracy who has been formally reprimanded. Knowing the General Council of Judicial Power cannot act in the exercise of jurisdictional function, clearly intending to confuse citizens, and moving exclusively for political reasons, he has said disciplinary measures should be taken and even insinuated openly that the judge in question "has a peculiar problem that everybody knows about". Such statements have no place in the responsible execution of his duties as Minister of Justice, and should lead to his immediate resignation.
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