Judges and prosecutors warn new legal reform poses impunity risk

Criminal Prosecution Law seeks to reduce inquiry times without granting extra resources

Judges and other officers of the court on strike in Barcelona in 2013.
Judges and other officers of the court on strike in Barcelona in 2013.A. García

Six judge and prosecutor associations have issued an unprecedented statement asking for Spain’s new Criminal Prosecution Law to be placed on hold.

The law, which is due to go into effect on December 5, establishes maximum periods of six to 18 months for all judicial investigations to be completed.

In theory, the limits were introduced in an effort to reduce Spain’s notoriously lengthy legal proceedings and reduce the backlog of cases piling up inside courthouses.

This is a veritable full stop law that will result in impunity for crimes that should be punished”

But these officers of the court are warning that the move does not come with an increase in resources, which will make compliance extremely difficult and result in impunity, particularly for white-collar crimes. The changes have been introduced by the ruling Popular Party (PP), which is ensnared in a series of complicated political corruption cases such as Gürtel and Púnica.

Legal experts have also criticized the fact that examining magistrates, who know the details of each case, will lose control over the duration of the proceedings because time extensions will only be granted if the public prosecutor files the request.

“This is a veritable full stop law that will result in impunity for crimes that should be punished,” says the statement, in reference to a piece of 1986 Argentinean legislation that stopped the prosecution of those suspected of political violence during the military dictatorship.

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“That is why the signatories of this statement request a stay on the reform, at least until the necessary resources in terms of personnel, equipment and computers are rolled out throughout the national territory to make it possible for the norm to be observed.”

This is the first time that so many different associations from across the ideological spectrum have come together to sign such a statement.

At the same time, over 1,000 prosecutors out of a total of 2,500 have also affixed their names to a letter worded in similar terms.

Once the law goes into effect on December 5, it will affect all ongoing cases as well as future ones.

This means that all criminal cases currently at the inquiry stage in all Spanish courthouses will have to undergo review, on top of the regular workload, and without any additional budgetary outlays, these groups complain.

English version by Susana Urra.

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