Read in Catalan

The defence team of Carles Puigdemont has extended the exiled Catalan president's lawsuit against judge Pablo Llarena to also accuse the Spanish state. This was explained in a media statement from Waterloo by Puigdemont himself, after lawyers had earlier this week formalized the civil suit announced in the Belgian courts.

"As a result of the active role of the Kingdom of Spain in this suit, which had previously been directed against one individual, we considered it appropriate for it to now be treated as a European affair and therefore to broaden it," said the former president, stating that "fundamental rights are at stake".

"We have opened a new horizon that was not previously planned", said defence team sources, adding that due to the fact that Spain had taken part in the case, the parties accused under the suit could now be extended.

In the text presented, not only Llarena but also the Spanish state are included. In addition, the claim made under the suit also extends to Llarena's actions as a judge, and not just personal comments made outside of his professional activity.

Meanwhile, the defence team representing Puigdemont and the other exiled politicians is also taking advantage of the suit to ask the Belgian judge to file a pre-judicial question in the EU Court of Justice, in Luxembourg.

Specifically, the suit includes the petition for the Belgian judge to ask the EU court whether the immunity of the State, "invoked to reject the [Belgian] court's power of jurisdiction in the framework of a civil action against a member state, is compatible with the fundamental principles of EU law."

Substance of the lawsuit

The Catalan exiles' defence team alleges that Llarena "violated EU law" in relation to the "freedom of expression, judicial procedures and the presumption of innocence" in the investigation phase for the Catalan independence case and this has affected the exiled politicians during the time they have been in Belgium. But, unlike the first summons presented against the judge in June 2018 in Brussels, the formal suit now include both private and judicial actions to support these accusations.

The legal team asserts that, when the Spanish government entered the case to defend Llarena, given that he was a judge of the Spanish state, it "shot itself in the foot" because it "opened up a new legal  horizon" - that is, it expanded the focus of the suit. The team argues that as the Spanish state became part of the case to defend its judge, Llarena's actions in the judicial area can now be included in the case, and not just things he did personally. For example, the suit mentions the European Arrest Warrants orders that Llarena lodged.

Judicial calendar

The legal team affirms that the Spanish state now has two months to respond to the accusations, although it predicts that throughout 2019 there will be an interchange of responses from both sides.

Once this exchange is over, there will be a judicial hearing "at the beginning of 2020". The Belgian court will then have to rule on the case, or decline that it have jurisdiction or, beforehand, ask the EU Court if it is able to judge the action of a magistrate from another EU member state. According to the legal team, it would be obliged to ask the Luxembourg court because that court would be "the last judicial instance" to which the plaintiffs could appeal. However, they admit it would be possible for the Belgian court to rule that the case was not linked to EU law or for Spain to "give in beforehand" so that the case would not end up passing through Luxembourg.

Expected impact

The defence of the exiled Catalan government ministers does not expect that a favourable resolution at the Luxembourg court - and subsequently, in Belgium - might have any effects on the rebellion and sedition case being processed by Spain's Supreme Court. "They won't accept anything," say the lawyers. However, they do hope that it has an "impact in Strasbourg". That is to say, that a later appeal to the European Court of Human rights might include the jurisprudence on the Llarena case as evidence of the presumed violations of the fundamental rights that they are asserting.