"This can't be right. They can't just do this from one day to the next," said one High Court judge on Monday after learning that the bodyguards assigned to him were being taken away.
The Interior Ministry has begun its plan to massively reduce the number of bodyguards assigned to judges, prosecutors and other officials, High Court sources said. The reductions, including the elimination of government vehicles for some officials, are set to start taking effect from today.
Among those who will be left without protection are three anti-corruption prosecutors who are currently investigating the Russian mafia and the Gürtel contracts-for-kickbacks case.
It was the High Court's chief criminal judge, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, who informed his colleagues of the government's decision.
The reasons? The government no longer feels pressured by ETA, which announced an end to attacks last fall, and the move is part of overall cost-cutting measures ordered by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
Initially, Grande-Marlaska, High Court Chief Judge Ángel Juanes, chief prosecutor Javier Zaragoza and Judge José Luis de Castro, who covers penitentiary issues, will keep their bodyguards and official vehicles. The rest of the judges and prosecutors will now have to go to work unprotected and by their own means.
Interior's decision will radically change the manner in which protection is afforded to courtrooms
Interior's decision, if it is finally implemented across the High Court, will radically change the manner in which protection is afforded to courtrooms. Until now, each judge and prosecutor had four police officers assigned to them, as well as a vehicle.
Some judges say that the only protection they will have now is regular surveillance of their homes.
The High Court judges and its prosecutors intend to file a note of protest with the Interior Ministry, the sources said. Among their gripes are a complaint that neither Interior nor Justice Ministry officials made evaluations to assess whether they were at risk before deciding to eliminate bodyguards.
The decision is also said to affect the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ) legal watchdog and the Supreme Court. In a statement released on Monday, state prosecutors say that ETA has not yet disbanded and that the danger posed by terrorists still exists.
According to Interior Ministry estimates, some 1,010 police officers who were serving as bodyguards will be reassigned to other duties.