A high-speed trial. Catalan foreign minister Meritxell Serret was tried today at the High Court of Catalonia (TSJC) over her role in the the 1-O, the Catalan independence referendum of 1st October 2017. The day of the court proceedings arrived two years after Serret's return from exile for which she agreed to appear before the Supreme Court, and the trial had been preceded a day earlier by a series of criticisms direct towards her by former colleague in both the 2017 Catalan government and in subsequent exile, Clara Ponsatí, holding that her agreed-on return to the Spanish state created a "Serret doctrine" that reinforced the arguments of the investigating judge, Pablo Llarena. Today, then, the trial took place both inside and outside the courtroom. The formal hearing began a little after ten in the morning and the judge announced the completion of the hearing at three minutes past one.
At the doors of the TSJC, a hundred people gathered to support the minister. The epic quality has long since disappeared from visits to the courts. Before entering the building, Serret spoke to the media defending "the legal and political strategy" that allowed her to return from exile. For their part, the representatives of ERC, Junts and the CUP avoided the controversy sparked by Ponsatí's reproaches as much as they could, in an attempt to prevent the remnants of the pro-independence unity from spilling some of its remaining blood right on the doors of the court that is judging it.
Once inside the chamber, presided over by judge Fernando Lacaba, there was no special epic to be found either. Even the clashes that the veteran Basque defence lawyer, Iñigo Iruin, played out with judge Lacaba were light years away from the disputes that the Junts exiles' lawyer, Gonzalo Boye, has deployed in the same courtroom. The first encounter between Iruin and the judge was so that Serret could sit next to her lawyer. The court session was held entirely in Spanish language, out of respect for "the defence", as the prosecutor, Neus Pujal, took special care to underline.
Debate over Serret's "demonstration"
Serret, who after the discussion about where she was to sit, also testified from the place next to her lawyer instead of doing so in the usual space facing the judges, did not want to answer the interrogation of the prosecutors, as is her right. In fact, she did not intend to answer her own lawyer either and explained that she wanted to reduce her intervention in the trial to just "a demonstration". This disoriented the court. "You won't respond to your lawyer?", the judge sought to clarify, warning that he would not be able to intervene then, given that such "demonstrations" were equivalent to the right to the final word. This opened a new debate between the judge and the defence lawyer, who recalled that the accused must have the right to express herself without limit and reproached that he had never encountered anything so confining as this, which "has no basis in the law".
Iruin finally resigned himself to formulating questions, given that that is what the judge asked him to do, on which to rest the statements of his client. "That's what the interrogation is for!" Lacaba replied.
The question was: "Did you have any involvement in connection with the calling of the referendum?" And Serret, as if she had not been listening to the debate which had taken place between the judge and the lawyer, began her response: "I would like to make a statement, which I think encompasses all the messages I would like to express today for this trial." The minister affirmed that she defends the pro-independence political project, that there was an intendion to criminalize it, but that it is legitimate; that it has "the right to be defended politically and peacefully and to win democratically"; that a social majority in Catalonia has expressed its will to decide what its political future should be; that as a member of the Catalan government she had the obligation to fulfill parliamentary mandates; that she tried "always and without hesitation" to make decisions that were consistent with this mandate; and that organizing a referendum is not a crime according to the Spanish Penal Code. "What we are experiencing is a political conflict with democratic roots. A democratic conflict like the one we are experiencing can only be resolved through politics and democratic solutions", she replied before emphasizing the fact that the 1st October referendum "was not a crime, that voting was not a crime and that the independence project is legitimate".
Prosecutor: "We don't pursue ideas, we pursue facts"
The defendant's account was followed by an equally forceful response from the prosecution. "The public prosecutor will, and it could cannot be otherwise, base its report strictly on legal terms, it will not engage in electoralism", began the prosecutor, Neus Pujal, who then affirmed: "Here ideas are not being criminalized, and nor is any political project. No 1-O voter has been made to sit in the dock."
The prosecutor asserted that no one is being prosecuted for their thoughts or ideas, and that they are only being accused of specific facts, such as the "repeated, continued, obstinate and stubborn" disobedience of the Constitutional Court's instructions. The prosecutor finished her report by reiterating the charges and the penalty of a ban from holding office which she claims against Serret. At this point, she stressed that the ban on holding office being sought for Serret must also include a veto against her carrying out the activities of an MEP.
Then, the Spanish state's solicitor showed an amazing ability to read her report at breakneck speed, so that it took only 4 minutes, while the private prosecution, conducted by Vox, recalled that the Catalan ministers Santi Vila, Carles Mundó and Meritxell Borràs, part of the 2019 Supreme Court trial, were also tried for a crime of disobedience just as Serret is being, and were sentenced to bans on holding office. Iruin emphasized in his intervention that what happened on October 1st was a difference between legality and legitimacy, between democratic and constitutional mandates. "Ultimately, there was a constitutional crisis derived fundamentally from a conflict over where sovereignty is, the resolution of which will have to go through different channels than judicial ones," he concluded.
Serret waived her right to the final word and the case was wrapped up and in the hands of the judges before lunchtime.