Current events: news and press releases

The Catalan Ombudsman demands the safeguard of social rights, the sustainability and the defence of freedoms in the face of growing vulnerability, climate change and the erosion of civil rights

17/02/2020

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Annual Report 2019 (in Catalan)

During 2019, 10,543 complaints from 22,993 people have been filed, 8,843 queries were processed and 222 ex officio actions were initiated 222. And, overall, 26,358 files have been processed and more than 30,000 people have been served

Due to the increasing number of complaints related to social emergency situations, the Ombudsman calls for immediate action which effectively responds to the more than 1,300 coexistence units concerned

The protection of the biodiversity of spaces in urban, infrastructure or extractive projects has led to a thousand complaints

In the same year that the Pact against school segregation was signed, several of the actions envisaged have already been implemented

Regarding migrant children and adolescents in transit without family, a strategy for these migrant adolescents and young people in the different municipalities of Catalonia must be urgently deployed

The Catalan Ombudsman has finalized its first Equality Plan for the period 2019-2022 in the field of gender equality

The Catalan Ombudsman, Rafael Ribó, accompanied by the two deputies, Jaume Saura, and M. Jesús Larios, today delivered to the President of Parliament, Roger Torrent, the annual report of the institution for the year 2019.

On year 2019, complaints and ex officio actions on the protection of social rights again constituted the largest block of actions, with 32% of those initiated during the year. In the field of education, mainly due to complaints about access to centres and pre-enrolment, and in the field of health, because of waiting lists and issues regarding the rights and duties of patients, there are there has been an increase in complaints over the previous year. The most significant increase, however, was in residential emergency situations, often of families with children.

On the other hand, territorial policies, which include environment, urbanism and mobility, account for about 30% of the complaints initiated by the Catalan Ombudsman during 2019. In addition, consumer rights represent around 10% of the complaints and more than 20% of the queries received during this financial year.

Wide acceptance of the Catalan Ombudsman's resolutions and improved satisfaction with the Catalan Ombudsman's performance

Of the actions completed, irregularities were detected in 49.3% of cases, and in 37.7% of them the problem was solved without the need for a resolution by the Catalan Ombudsman.

With regards to the acceptance of the Catalan Ombudsman's resolutions, and following the trend of previous years, it is remarkable that in 98.7% of cases in which an irregular performance of the Administration was detected, the Catalan Ombudsman recommended or suggested measures, which were fully or partially accepted.

Another important fact worth noting is the efficiency of the Catalan Ombudsman, measured in resolving problems and compliance with resolutions that have previously been fully or partially accepted by the Administration. In this sense, in 63.7% the problem was solved or the resolutions of the Catalan Ombudsman were fulfilled, while in 36.2% of cases they were still being implemented.

In terms of the level of satisfaction with the service received, one third of the respondents are very satisfied or satisfied. The average grade obtained, with a scale of 0 to 10, was 6.76 and substantially improves that of the previous year, which was 6.1.

In terms of the level of satisfaction with the service received, one third of the complainants are very satisfied or satisfied. The average grade obtained, with a scale of 0 to 10, was 6.76 and substantially improves that of the previous year, which was 6.1.

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The Catalan Ombudsman hosts the NEON General Meeting in Barcelona

05/02/2020

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The meeting brought together energy ombudsmen from Belgium, the United Kingdom or Italy, among others

The General Meeting of the NEON (National Energy Ombudsmen Network) took place today at the headquarters of the Catalan Ombudsman. Formed by members from Belgium, United Kingdom or Poland, for example, the network's main purpose is to exchange and deepen the management and resolution of energy and service complaints, and also to become a monitoring and pressure mechanism before regulatory bodies.

Today's meeting focused on internal issues such as the revision of the by-laws, the work plan and the election of officers, as well as issues of an open or external nature, such as the activities planned individually or by groups by its members.

The Barcelona meeting was attended by the President of the Neon, Janusz Gwiazdowski, Coordinator for Negotiations to the President of Energy Regulatory Office (Poland); the Vice President, Roberto Malaman, from the Italian Energy Regulatory Authority, and the Treasurer, Sabine Keirse, from the Energy Commission (Wallonia). The other attendees were Eric Houtman, from the Energy Mediation Service (Belgium); Ed Dodman, from the Ombudsman Services (United Kingdom); Tara O'beirne, from the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities (CRU, Ireland), and Salome Vardiashvili, an ombudsman for the energy and water sector.

NEON is the European network of independent, not-for-profit consumer dispute-resolution services and ombudsmen active in the energy sector. Their members have the public mandate to provide an easily-accessible and free-of-charge way to solve disputes between consumers and companies. Their main goal is to promote a specific model of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), based on independent, national and regional ADR services that defend the general interest and the rights of all consumers, including the most vulnerable ones. The network facilitates the exchange of information, experience and good practices among its members.

The Catalan Ombudsman has been a full member of NEON since 2012, and this is the third time that the Catalan ombudsman institution has hosted a network meeting in Barcelona.

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The Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture reports delays in legal assistance and malpractice in mechanical fixations

04/02/2020

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The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) has published today the report on its ad hoc visit Spain from 6 to 13 September 2018.

The Catalan Ombudsman welcomes the publication of the CPT report and the collection of information provided by the institution

The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) has published today the report on its ad hoc visit Spain from 6 to 13 September 2018. This visit was focused on Catalonia and the Catalan Ombudsman took an active part, among others. Although the CPT report was submitted to the state authorities months ago, it has not been allowed to publish until today.

Some of the conclusions and recommendations made by the Committee coincide with the work performed by the Catalan Ombudsman as a Catalan Mechanism for Prevention of Torture.

Regarding police custody, at Police Headquarters of “Les Corts” in Barcelona, the CPT found instances of unjustified delays (of 12 hours or more) in notifying third persons nominated by detainees. There is also a need to improve access to a lawyer in practice, through improved co-operation with the Bar Associations.

In respect of prisoners accommodated in special closed-regime departments (DERT),  Circular 02/2017 foresees a more individualised approach and the reinforcement of safeguards surrounding their placement in a DERT although the CPT found that further steps were required to fully implement this Circular. As foreseen by the Circular, inmates affected by mental health disorders should either be placed in a medical setting or be provided with increased attention by specialised staff. The Catalan Mechanism recommended one year ago that mechanical fixation should be practiced only for medical, not regimental, reasons. This year, a study on praxis in Catalan prisons is being completed.

Finally, the CPT visited two women's prisons. At Brians 1 Prison, the lack of differentiation, resulting in all types of prisoner being mingled together regardless of their needs and the challenges they posed, contributed to a sense of insecurity and fear, and should be addressed. On the positive side, the CPT found that the mother and baby unit at Wad-Ras Prison represented good practice.

The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Punishment (CPT) is a specialized independent body of control of the Council of Europe. It is endowed with independent and impartial experts, such as lawyers, doctors and prisons or police experts. The CPT visits detention sites in the member states of the Council of Europe to see how prisoners are treated. Examples of places of detention are police stations, prisons, juvenile detention centres, immigrant detention centres, and psychiatric or geriatric hospitals.

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The Catalan Ombudsman warns of the restrictive interpretation of fundamental rights in Judgment 459/2019 of the Spanish Supreme Court

15/01/2020

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Judgment 459/2019 of the Spanish Court Supreme and its impact on the exercise of fundamental rights

Judgment 459/2019 makes an expansive interpretation of weak legal rules and does not make a specific and specific weighting of the rights to free expression and freedom of assembly and manifestation in relation to the facts attributed to those charged with criminal law

Political and legal mechanisms must be activated to repeal, or review deeply, the current regulation of the crime of sedition in the Spanish Criminal Code

The release of people sentenced in this case is a must for a successful negotiated solution to the current political conflict

The conflict between Catalonia and the rest of Spain is eminently political in nature and can only have a political solution

Today, January 16, 2020, the Catalan Ombudsman, Rafael Ribó, accompanied by the Deputy General, Jaume Saura, has delivered to the President of the Parliament of Catalonia, Roger Torrent, the report about the Judgment 459/2019 of the Spanish Court Supreme and its impact on the exercise of fundamental rights 

The report, also motivated by the complaints received, is based on the contributions and reflections from a workshop that took place at the Catalan Ombudsman's office on November 13, 2019, in which expert lawyers participated. The report analyzes, on the one hand, the impact on sentenced people and their fundamental rights in the context of this criminal process. And, on the other, the potential extension of a restrictive interpretation of fundamental rights, such as freedom of assembly and demonstration or freedom of expression throughout the State, the prospect of possible violation of rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights, and also the principle of parliamentary inviolability and separation of powers.

According to the Catalan Ombudsman, the sentence of twelve political and social leaders derived from Judgment 459/2019, nine of which between nine and thirteen years of imprisonment, is disproportionate and may have violated the constitutional rights of sentenced persons, and may also have an effect on the fulfillment of fundamental rights and freedoms by all citizens.

The report's main conclusions state that in this case the Spanish Supreme Court was not the “default ordinary judge by law”, but the disproportionate initial accusation of rebellion vitiated the entire case and led to several situations, such as the imposition of unjustified and disproportionate pre-trial detention.

With regard to the fragmentation of the case, it is found that the facts that are the subject of the prosecution in this judgment are being known by different jurisdictions at the same time (Spanish National Court, Superior Court of Catalonia,  Judicial 13 of Barcelona), which adversely affects the right to defense and the right to non-discrimination.

The report emphasizes that the Judgment makes an expansive interpretation of weak legal precepts (with regard to the crime of sedition, for example, disobedience becomes sedition; and sedition, a crime essentially of disobedience) and does not make a specific weighting of the rights to free expression and freedom of assembly and demonstration regarding the events attributed to those charged with criminal law, to evaluate them from the perspective of the exercise of fundamental rights and not exclusively from the the Criminal Code perspective. Issues such as barring the cross-examination of witnesses, barring defenses from asking questions about the ideology of certain witnesses, disregarding judge recusals or breaching the presumption of innocence by senior state officials could entail violations of fundamental rights recognized in the European Convention on Human Rights.

With regard to sentences imposed for sedition, they could incur disproportion with respect to the penalties provided for in the offenses applicable as criminal limits on the rights of assembly and demonstration, even in those that provide for the use of weapons and explosives, which the Spanish Supreme Court itself does not consider to have occurred in any event.

Generally speaking, the Supreme Court’s interpretation of some basic elements of the crime of sedition, such as the purpose of the uprising (which for the Supreme Court is to "hinder", not "prevent", the normal operation of services and public institutions and, in particular, the execution of a court decision) and the way it should be carried out (by comparing non-violent resistance to force and intimidation and without considering that the expression legal pathways used in the Criminal Code can refer to the exercise of fundamental rights), coupled with the indeterminacy of the same concept of tumultuous uprising (which in fact assimilates a mass mobilization of citizens, even peacefully), could be an excessive restriction on the right of assembly and demonstration in future citizen protests.

The Judgment culminates a long process of intervention of the courts in the internal organization and operation of the Parliament of Catalonia. Under the threat of criminal sanctions, the courts, in many cases, at the behest of the State Government, preemptively determine what issues can be discussed in Parliament and which ones are not to be discussed. The inviolability of the Parliament and its members and, indirectly, the right to political participation of the citizenry and the separation of powers are obviated.

Once again, the Catalan Ombudsman emphasizes that the conflict between Catalonia and the rest of the State is eminently political in nature and it is the result of a restrictive interpretation of the constitutional precepts on territorial self-government. Such a conflict can only have a political solution, based on the linguistic, cultural and national diversity of the Kingdom of Spain. The institution also states that the release of the sentenced persons in this case is essential for the successful exit of a negotiated solution to the current political conflict. And to do this, the State Government and the Spanish Parliament have fully constitutional tools such as the pardon or amnesty law. The repeal of the crime of sedition could also have this effect.

At the same time, the report makes several recommendations:

  • Political and legal mechanisms must be activated to repeal, or revise in depth, the current regulation of the crime of sedition in the Spanish Penal Code, which has historically strong authoritarian connotations and, as seen in Judgment 459/2019 of the Court Supreme, it can be interpreted extensively as a violation of fundamental rights to freedom of assembly and of expression, in connection with freedom of expression.
  • The legal instruments allowed in the constitutional framework must be launched to achieve the release of the persons sentenced in Judgment 459/2019, regardless of the necessary reform of the Criminal Code.
  • A constructive dialogue must be started to achieve a political solution to the conflict between Catalonia and the State; a brave dialogue that must include a consultation with the people of Catalonia about their political future.

To their knowledge and consideration, this report will be forwarded to the Government of Catalonia, the Parliament of Catalonia, the Spanish Parliament, the State Government, the European Commissioner for Human Rights and international ombudsmen.

For the past two and a half years, the Catalan Ombudsman, in exercising its statutory and legal function to protect and defend the rights and freedoms recognized by the Spanish Constitution and the Statute of Catalonia, has warned in several reports on the regression of fundamental rights and freedoms in the Kingdom of Spain. The latest of these reports, entitled Violation of fundamental rights and freedoms arising from the criminal justice reaction following October 1, and application of article 155 of the Spanish constitution, of May 2018, with political and social leaders charged with rebellion and in pre-trial detention, shows that the actions of state powers were characterized by the application of exceptional measures that limited −and even criminalized− the exercise of fundamental rights and freedoms, especially freedom of expression.

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Statement of the Catalan Ombudsman about the ruling of EU Court of Justice regarding MP's immunity

19/12/2019

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The Court of Justice of the European Union delivered the ruling in Junqueras Vies case C-502/19, regarding the preliminary ruling raised by the Spanish Supreme Court.

According to the EU Court of Justice, “a person who is elected to the European Parliament acquires the status of Member of Parliament as a result of and from the time of the declaration of the election results, with the result that he enjoys the immunities guaranteed by Article 9 of the Protocol”.

This status implies that the immunity, as regards travel granted to every Member of the European Parliament, entails lifting any measure of provisional detention imposed prior to the declaration of that Member’s election, in order to allow that person to travel to and take part in the inaugural session of the European Parliament.

According to this ruling, the Catalan Ombudsman notes that Oriol Junqueras's political rights have been violated, as he was not allowed to attend the inaugural session of the European Parliament.

Furthermore, as the EU Court of Justice holds that the competent national court should request the European Parliament to waive that immunity, while there is no request nor any European Parliament decision, Oriol Junqueras should be immediately released.

Consequently, the Catalan Ombudsman states that:

  • There has been violation of political rights;
  • The Spanish Supreme Court must apply the EU Court of Justice ruling in all its extension;
  • Supports the request for releasing Oriol Junqueras.

This statement is forwarded to the Spanish Ombudsman and the Spanish Supreme Court to its knowledge and consideration.

Barcelona, 19 December 2019

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