On December 6th fifteen Members of the UK Parliament put to the House of Commons an early day motion deploring the way Spain is treating the Speaker of the Catalan Parliament, the Rt. Hon. Carme Forcadell. In October 2016 the public prosecutor was advised by the Constitutional Court “to take the necessary criminal action, as they see fit”, on grounds of contempt of court, for defying its ban on the outcome of an ad hoc committee being debated by the House. The chief prosecutor, Consuelo Madrigal, was looking forward to this: she had already stated in September that she was ready to prosecute Forcadell.
The ban on a debate held on July 27 2016, almost certainly unprecedented in post-war western Europe, sought to abort a decision on the road map towards independence. The text, which was put to the Plenary despite the ban, has three main sections. The first foresees the convening of a forum to discuss a future Catalan constitution. The second initiates three bills to “disconnect” from Spain. The third calls for the setting-up of a Constituent Assembly to draft a constitution, to be put to a referendum. The report was adopted by the pro-independence parties – the “Junts pel Sí “( “Together For Yes”) coalition, comprising the Republican Left (ERC) and the European Democratic Party of Catalonia (PDECat) and the radical left Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) coalition. Together they hold a commanding 72 seats in the 135-seat Catalan Parliament.
The setting up of the Study Committee was included in a parliamentary resolution on this issue, No. 1/XI, “on the start of the political process as a result of the 27 September 2015 election results”, adopted on November 9 2015. It basically said that Catalonia was sovereign and, as such, its Parliament would no longer obey Spanish governmental or judicial authorities. It had been deemed unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court in record time: its judgment, STC 259/2015, was adopted on 2 December 2015, just 23 days after the Resolution! The court stated that it was “a parliamentary deed … the contents of which can be understood as the recognition of inherent powers of sovereignty superior to those deriving from the autonomy recognized by the Constitution to the nationalities that make up the Spanish Nation”. Even the Bureau meeting held immediately before the November debate, on the 3rd, was deemed nul and void by another Constitutional court judgment, in response to procedural complaints by the opposition parties.
The Resolution laid down the establishment of an ad hoc Study Committee on the Constituent Process. Despite the court ruling banning it, the committee was set up by Resolution 5/XI, on 20 January 2016, and first met on 28 January 2016. On February 1 2016, that is, just four days later, the Spanish government’s legal representative called on the Constitutional Court to warn Forcadell and the members of the Study Committee that they could be committing an offense if the committee was active and met regularly. 0n 19 July 2016 the Constitutional Court decided to warn the authorities involved and their office-holders, and especially the Bureau of the Catalan Parliament, under its responsibility, of their duty to prevent or paralyze any initiative that involves ignoring or circumventing the stated mandates.
Not surprisingly, this warning was issued just eight days before the Study Committee was due to put its report and recommendations to the Plenary, which it did on July 27. It was adopted as Resolution No. 263/XI by the above-mentioned majority, at the end of a tense plenary session of Parliament in which the opposition made its presence vociferously felt.
The Spanish government machinery went into operation again, and the Constitutional Court, on 6 October 2016, declared that Resolution 263/XI was null and void, as well as issuing still more dire warnings, this time in the form of individual letters sent to the Speaker, the other members of the Bureau, the Secretary-General of the Parliament, the President of Catalonia and each of the members of the Government with the threat of cirimnal action against them if they acted in accordance with the July 2016 Resolution.
It also called on the State prosecutor to consider charging the Speaker, the Rt. Hon. Carme Forcadell, and if need be other officials, with contempt of court.
The popular uproar against these measures has been considerable. When it was announced that the High Court prosecutor was charging her, thousands gathered outside the Parliament building to the chant of “Tots som Forcadell” (“We are all Forcadell”).
Sra. Forcadell has joined the growing list of Catalan politicians facing charges: former president Artur Mas, former ministers Joana Ortega, Gemma Rigau and Francesc Homs (for organising a non-binding poll on November 9 2014), officials of nearly three hundred local authorities, and several people with no official post: Joan Guirado and Santiago Espot, for instance.
On November 13 over 80,000 people demonstrated in Barcelona against the Spanish government’s strategy of judicializing what is a political conflict (for which, incidentally, the governing party is largely to blame in the first place). The Guardian quoted Omnium Cultural’s chair, Jordi Cuxart, as saying “If you attack our democratically elected representatives, you attack our institutions, all our people and our sovereignty, and we will never allow that… Our cause is democracy and we will never let our elected representatives down.”
The day before, right across Catalonia, thousands of citizens will gather before their town hall in silent protest. And on the day, thousands are expected to gather in front of the High Court. For many perhaps most, it will be hard to remain silent in the face of these political trials.