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The invitation of the presiding judge of the 2019 Catalan leaders' trial, Manuel Marchena, to a lecture at the Barcelona Bar Association (ICAB) will not go unnoticed. Pro-independence civil society groups Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Òmnium Cultural have announced that they will mobilize against the judge who presided over the trial which convicted nine Catalan pro-independence leaders to long jail sentences for sedition. The two organizations have already announced that they will carry out a "surprise action" against the presence of the judge in front of the lawyers' association. Beyond the popular rejection that his visit to Barcelona may generate, the decision to invite the judge has also raised criticism within the ICAB itself, as Catalan lawyers consider it a provocation to invite Marchena. The address he plans to give, entitled "Artificial Intelligence and Criminal Procedure", has been scheduled for next Monday, July 4th, at the headquarters of the Barcelona Bar Association, and both Omnium and the ANC have called protests at 4pm outside the venue.

The criminal law section of the Barcelona Bar Association states, in response to the controversy, that the chosen topic is topical, both in terms of criminal cases and future civil liability, and that legislation will be needed to regulate it. Could another speaker have been chosen? Yes, the section admits, but they add that, in the end, all appeals on artificial intelligence will be heard in the chamber currently chaired by judge Marchena and, therefore, they say, it will be interesting to know his opinion.

Similar controversies

This is not the first time that ICAB conferences have caused controversy. A previous occasion was in 2020 when the criminal law section of the association invited Supreme Court prosecutor Javier Zaragoza - himself part of the team of prosecutors in the Catalan leaders' trial - to discuss the proposed reform of Spain's Criminal Procedure Act allowing the prosecution to direct the investigation, as occurs in the majority of European countries and which Spain backed away from at the last minute. In that case, ICAB's Commission of Women Lawyers announced that it was leaving the association because of Zaragoza's participation. The Commission of Women Lawyers thus followed the path also announced by the same legal association's Commission for the Defence of Rights of the Person and Free Practice of the Bar, which argued that it would not take part in the congress because Zaragoza represents “the maximum expression and the spearhead of the repression of the Spanish state against the citizens of Catalonia and its government”.

Two years before that, on February 23rd, 2018, an exceptional situation was also experienced at the legal association in a ceremony commemorating 50 years of legal practice. The then speaker of the Catalan Parliament, Roger Torrent, made a speech and criticized "the existence of political prisoners", which led the then dean Gay to reprimand him with a "no, mister speaker", in a video that went viral and caused the president of the Catalan High Court, Jesús Maria Barrientos, and the senior prosecutor of Catalonia, Francisco Bañeres, to leave the event in protest. Recently, this scene was described by the Constitutional Court judge Ramon Sáez Valcarcel, as a reason to request Barrientos' recusal in cases related to the Catalan independence issue. Now, Torrent, facing a disobedience trial over allowing pro-independence and anti-monarchy motions to be debated in Parliament, has indeed demanded Barrientos's removal from the case due to lack of impartiality and having expressed rejection of his pro-independence ideology. This has led to the calling of a special chamber of the High Court to resolve the issue, which may delay the trial of Torrent and pro-independence members of the Bureau of Parliament, scheduled for mid-July.