15,000 members of Spain’s legal profession could lose their immunity

PP government wants to eliminate “aforamiento” for judges, attorneys and justices of the peace

Judges could lose their immunity from the lower courts if the government reform prospers.
Judges could lose their immunity from the lower courts if the government reform prospers.ULY MARTÍN

Around 15,000 people stand to lose their partial immunity from the courts under a sweeping reform of the justice system being drafted by the Popular Party (PP) government.

The final version of the Organic Law on the Judiciary envisions taking away aforamiento — immunity from the lower courts in criminal and sometimes also civil law cases — from 5,171 judges, 2,407 attorneys and 7,685 justices of the peace in Spain.

Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón is also proposing taking aforamiento away from ministers, deputies and senators, as well as the Ombudsman and the heads of the Audit Court.

In a recent interview with EL PAÍS, the minister said he wanted to see no more than 22 aforados in Spain from now on. Right now that figure is 17,621, including the royal family, politicians and members of the legal profession. It is by far the highest number in Europe.

In Spain, an aforado can only be tried by the Supreme Court or by the highest court in their region, rather than by a lower court. This legal figure, which purports to protect officials from baseless, politically motivated lawsuits, is non-existent in Britain and the United States, and only conferred upon the country’s president in Portugal and Italy.

Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón wants to slash the number of aforados in Spain.
Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón wants to slash the number of aforados in Spain.SAMUEL SANCHEZ

The bill now needs to be reviewed by the General Council of the Judiciary and the Attorneys Council before moving to Congress. Once there, the PP’s majority would be enough to get the project passed. But deadlines are so tight that there is a risk the bill will not pass before the end of this political term.

And opposition to the measure is likely to drag the process down. Legal associations have already criticized the proposal and defended aforamiento.

Both the conservative Professional Judgeship Association (APM)  and the progressive Judges for Democracy (JpD) feel that the measure is unnecessary.

“If a judge is going to be investigated for alleged criminal behavior, the investigating judge needs to have a higher grade, not a lower one,” says Pablo Llaneras, spokesman for APM, which is the largest judge association.

Llaneras also defends immunity for politicians. “Our institutions’ credibility will be undermined if a politician is prosecuted due to decisions made by judges with less experience and knowledge whose rulings may be subject to review by higher courts. We support aforamiento for politicians whose position justifies it.”

Joaquím Bosch, spokesman for JpD, defended “a global solution based on consensus, rather than these patches. Of all existing types of aforamientos, those of judges are the most justified. This ensures that a judge will not be tried by his or her close colleague, which could affect the principle of impartiality.”

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