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The Belgian judge hearing the civil lawsuit brought against Spanish Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena has adjourned the preliminary hearing until 25th September.

Sala 7 jutjats Brussel·les ACN

The Belgian court / ACN

The decision was taken in a hearing today which lasted just minutes. Llarena's lawyer, Hakim Boularbah, asked for the case to be heard by three judges, not only one, taking into account its magnitude.

Advocat pablo llarena belgica ACN

Hakim Boularbah, Llarena's lawyer / ACN

Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and the ministers in exile brought a civil lawsuit against Llarena, the judge hearing the case against them in Spain. The Spanish judge had been summonsed to testify in Brussels today, but sent his lawyer instead.

A "long" procedure

This Tuesday's hearing was a formality to try to set the calendar for a procedure which both parties expect to be long. In comments to Catalunya Ràdio, Gonzalo Boye, Puigdemont's lawyer, said that today they were to "set the working guidelines with the state's lawyer". He also noted it doesn't matter that Llarena hasn't gone to Brussels but that, if it goes to trial, "he would be obliged to attend".

Over half a million euros

The Spanish government is to spend 545,000 euros (£490,000; $640,000) defending judge Pablo Llarena in Belgium. The Spanish justice ministry has hired Belgian firm Liedekerke Wolters Waelbroeck Kirkpatrick (LWWK) to represent the Spanish state and the Supreme Court judge in the civil lawsuit brought in Belgium by Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and ministers in exile with him.

The law firm, based in Brussels, will now be in contact with the Spanish state's legal service to direct its strategy. The Spanish legal service cannot appear itself in an ordinary court in a foreign country.

After some back and forth, the Spanish government has taken on the costs of representing the judge and brought to an end the controversy over whether it should defend him or not. The justice minister, Dolores Delgado, denied that there has been a change of criteria, despite originally saying they wouldn't defend the judge for his "private acts". She said that they'd studied all scenarios and explained the whole procedure "with transparency". She then promised to defend the judge "to the last consequences".

Boularbah: "I will take part on the 25th in representation of the Kingdom of Spain"

Hakim Boularbah explained after the hearing that he requested it be adjourned to "allow the [Spanish] state to take part to defend its immunity of jurisdiction". "In accordance with procedural norms, the parties present written conclusions before arguing the case orally", he said, declining to go into further detail.

Speaking to the media outside the court, he said that on 25th September he will appear to represent the Kingdom of Spain. "International law allows Spain to appear before the courts of another state to defend the jurisdictional immunity of its bodies", he said, "I will appear in name of the Spanish state but for that an official document is needed and that is what will happen on 25th September".

In defence of his request for three judges, not one, to hear the case, the Belgian lawyer would only say  that "it's an exceptional case". He also noted that, for now, nothing has been decided and the procedures are "purely administrative".

For his part, Gonzalo Boye described the request for three judges as "quite correct". "It's a complex topic and it's always good to have wider criteria. In their place, we would have done the same," he said. As for the adjournment, he said that also seems "correct" and that they didn't oppose it.

Gonzalo Boye ACN

Contradicting a comment by Boularbah that Llarena doesn't have to appear in person in court, Boye said he believes that "everyone should be present in court the day they have to testify", but that this "will be debated during proceedings". "The most important thing from today is that they've recognised that they had to come to the Belgian court to respond [to the lawsuit]," he said.