The brand-new speaker of Spain's Congress, Meritxell Batet, knew there would be at least one hot potato awaiting her in her in-tray: the suspension of the newly elected deputies among the pro-independence politicians in prison and on trial in the Supreme Court. The presiding judge in their trial, Manuel Marchena, avoided taking a decision on the matter, instead writing to the Congress to carry out the suspension itself based on article 21 of the chamber's rules. The article says that deputies can be suspended whilst in conditional detention, for as long as they are held. The trial had been suspended this Monday and Tuesday for Oriol Junqueras, Jordi Sànchez, Jordi Turull and Josep Rull to take their seats in the Congress, and for Raül Romeva to do likewise in the Senate.
Batet, however, has decided to throw the issue back to the judges, asking the president of the Supreme Court, Carlos Lesmes, to provide her with a report from the chamber headed by judge Marchena on the application of article 384.b of Spain's Criminal Code. That article says that anyone charged and held without bail on various charges related to that of rebellion relevant here will automatically be suspended from any public office. This was the article used by investigating judge Pablo Llarena to suspend them as deputies in the Catalan Parliament.
The end goal appears to be ever the same: to suspend the prisoners. The question is who has to take responsibility for it. It's an important question because if they are suspended instead of being replaced it would significantly alter the parliamentary arithmetic in the chamber. Then there's the fact there are more elections this Sunday, to local councils, the parliaments of some autonomous communities and the European Parliament. Indeed, Junqueras himself is standing for ERC and is EFA's Spitzenkandidat.
Just this morning, the public prosecution service filed a request with the court asking for them to tell the Congress and Senate that they have to immediately apply article 384.b and suspend the five prisoners.
Yesterday, the assumption in Congress was that the presiding Board, after its election that morning, would meet in the afternoon to suspend the four based on a report from its lawyers. The meeting to discuss the matter has now, however, been delayed to Thursday.
In the middle of the tussle between the legislature and the judiciary, the trial has restarted for the week, moving on to the phase of testimony from experts. As such, for the moment, Junqueras, Sànchez, Turull, Rull and Romeva might be back in the dock, but they enjoy their full rights as parliamentarians. Rights they'll have until one side or the other decides to take responsibility for suspending them.