Hours after Justice Minister Rafael Catalá (PP) suggested on a radio programme that the dissenting judge in the wolf-pack non-rape case might not be in full possession of his mental faculties, the Spanish Socialist Party's (PSOE) spokeswoman in Congress, Margarita Robles, defended the minister, not the judge and the separation of powers between different branches of government.

"When Catalá says what he says, I'm sure he does so because he knows what he is talking about", said Mrs. Robles, herself a former Supreme Court judge and member of the Spain's highest judicial council, the CGPJ: "I myself have asked the CGPJ to look in to this judge".

She exhorted the council to explain why it had not done so.

The CGPJ confirmed to The Spain Report on Monday that there was nothing on the judge's current file that prevented him from ruling on current cases.

Judicial associations issued joint statements on Monday saying Mr. Catalá should resign immediately.

Mrs. Robles said judicial independence must be "protected" but that "using a dissenting vote to offend the victim" was "not acceptable".

On Labour Day on Tuesday, PSOE secretary general Pedro Sánchez distanced himself from the position expressed by his parliamentary spokeswoman.

"We ask that the Justice Minister not be clumsy", he told a rally: "if he has some personal, private accusation to make against the judge, he should clarify what he means; if not, the best thing would be to shut up".

On a TV news show, the party's organisational secretary, José Luis Ábalos, backed Mrs. Robles and the Justice Minister, saying the judges had taken too long to reach a decision and that the judicial council should have checked on the case earlier "because of the social alarm it was generating".

"This dissenting vote not only degrades the victim but is uncomfortable for his judicial colleagues", said Mr. Ábalos.

The leader of the Catalan Socialist Party, Miquel Iceta, stood by Mr. Sánchez, and described the Justice Minister's comments as "absolutely indefensible".

A Justice Minister "cannot talk about the specific situation of judges", he said: "he should be more worried about applying the law".

Mr. Iceta said Spain's 1995 Criminal Code—which requires violence or intimidation, in the legal sense of those concepts, for a rape conviction—should perhaps be reformed, and that the minister should move to do that.

The Public Prosecutor's Office announced on Friday that it would appeal the ruling sentencing the five accused to nine years in jail for sexual abuse instead of rape.

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