Judge in Running of the Bulls rape case has “unique problem,” says Spanish justice minister

Legal associations call on Rafael Catalá to resign over his criticism of magistrate who wanted to clear defendants of all sexual charges

Spanish Justice Minister Rafael Catalá.
Spanish Justice Minister Rafael Catalá.AYTO CUENCA

Judge and prosecutor associations in Spain are demanding the resignation of Justice Minister Rafael Catalá following his public statements this morning regarding one of the three judges who ruled on the high-profile Pamplona gang-rape case.

Everyone knows that this judge has a unique problem, I am surprised that the CGPJ has not taken action Justice Minister Rafael Catalá

“Everyone knows that this judge has a unique problem; I am surprised that the [legal watchdog] CGPJ has not taken action,” said Minister Catalá on Monday morning about Ricardo González, who entered a dissenting opinion last week in the verdict that sentenced five men to nine years in prison for sexually abusing an 18-year-old woman at the 2016 Running of the Bulls festival.

The victim was assaulted inside a building lobby in Pamplona, and the men filmed the abuse on their cellphones. There was outrage and widespread protests throughout Spain after the defendants, who called themselves La Manada (The Pack), were found guilty of abuse but cleared of the rape charge because the judges saw no signs of violence or intimidation.

The five members of La Manada.
The five members of La Manada.

Judge González went further and argued that the men should be acquitted of all sexual charges altogether, and convicted merely of theft for having taken the victim’s cellphone after assaulting her.

Speaking on the Cope radio network, Minister Catalá expressed “surprise” that Spain’s legal watchdog, the CGPJ, has not “taken action” against Ricardo González. “Everyone knows that this judge has a unique problem; I am surprised that the CGPJ has not taken action.”

In a joint statement issued on Monday, seven legal associations called Catalá’s words “an “interference by the executive in tasks that fall exclusively to the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPD). The comments regarding whether a judge is qualified or not are reckless coming from someone who is the minister of justice.”

Protests in Madrid last week in the wake of the ruling.
Protests in Madrid last week in the wake of the ruling.Victor J Blanco (©GTRESONLINE)

“Today, it’s about the La Manada trial, but tomorrow it could be about anything else that displeases the minister or his government,” said the release.

Judges in the region of Navarre, where the case was tried, added that there is “a clear desire to confuse the citizens” and “exclusively political motives” behind the minister’s words.

A judge with a problem?

Of the 340-page ruling, 200 pages were dedicated to Judge González’s findings in the case, in which he wrote that the videos that the defendants took of their encounter with the victim merely showed five men and a woman practicing “sexual acts in an atmosphere of revelry and delight.”

This contrasts with the testimony given by the victim, who had only minutes earlier met the members of La Manada in the street during Sanfermines, and was ushered by them into a building hallway where the sexual acts took place.

Today, it’s about the La Manada trial, but tomorrow it could be about anything else that displeases the minister or his government

Legal associations

Minister Catalá did not go into further detail about the apparent issue with Judge González. “I don’t know the full details and it would not be reasonable to talk about a personal problem,” the minister stated. But he added that “everyone knows about it,” in reference to members of the legal profession.

He added that González “has had some investigations” opened against him. “In Spain, we have 5,500 magnificent and highly professional judges. But as in all sectors, there are some people with difficulties. If they knew about this situation at the Navarre High Court, they should have taken preventive action,” Catalá stated.

The minister went on to say that the expressions used by the judge in the ruling were what most angered Spanish society, more so than the actual ruling itself. “A verdict that is 340 pages long cannot have 200 pages detailing a personal vote using inappropriate expressions, which is what I believe has created such social upheaval. There could have been preventive action there, and that is where the CGPJ has a responsibility.”

Thousands of people took to the streets last week to protest the sentence handed down by the Navarre High Court. The Spanish government announced that it would review legislation covering sexual assaults in the Spanish criminal code. But on Monday, the justice minister warned that it was important not to legislate in the heat of the moment.

“I am in favor of laws being adapted to social realities. If there is an imbalance, we need to legislate to change it,” he said on Monday. “In this case, the fine line between influence, violence and intimidation has produced results that are so unusual that it is not doubt convenient to review them. But not in a rushed manner or from a populist point of view. Experts in criminal law will take their time and the parties will make a decision based on their conclusions.”

English version by Simon Hunter.

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