Current events: news and press releases

The Catalan Ombudsman organizes an international webinar on the Catalan public order model

11/03/2021

The Catalan Ombudsman has organized a seminar website with the aim of contributing to the debate on the need to revise or update the public order model in Catalonia.

This conference will take place on March 15th and it will consist of two round tables. The first one, which will discuss the models of order public in several countries in Europe, is formed by of Marie Anderson, Police Ombudsman of Ireland Northern; Sebastian Roché, CNRS Senior researcher; Hugh Orde, former head of the police in United Kingdom; Àngels Bosch, president of Eurocop, and Josep Lluís Trapero, chief of the Catalan police.

The second of the round tables, moderated by Jaume Bosch, expert in public safety, will discuss the public order in the Parliament of Catalonia, and will be composed by members of the parliamentary groups with representation in the XII term.

The opening of the conference will be in charge of the Minister of Home Affairs, Miquel Sàmper, and will be closed by the Catalan Ombudsman, Rafael Ribó.

The event will be open to the public and can be followed by streaming at the Catalan Ombudsman youtube channel. Simultaneous translation available.

Programme

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The Catalan Ombudsman demands the acquittal of all five electoral commissioners

03/03/2021

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The institution emphasizes that the months and years spent under the most serious accusations constitute an attack on rights and freedoms that would have no place in a democratic and lawful state

These people resigned from their posts as a result of the coercive fine imposed by the Constitutional Court, which the same Court subsequently lifted

On the occasion of the beginning of the oral hearing in the criminal case against five members of the Electoral Commission of October 1, the Catalan Ombudsman demands the acquittal of all five election commissioners, and has conveyed this to the European Commission on Human Rights, the Director General for Human Rights and the Rule of Law and the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, for their knowledge and consideration.

It recalls that these people resigned their positions a few days after being appointed, as a result of the coercive fine imposed by the Constitutional Court (Ruling 126/2017, of September 20), which the same Court was to subsequently suspend (ITC of November 14, 2017) when the resignation was to take place.

In the Report on the violation of fundamental rights and public freedoms as a result of the criminal reaction after October 1 and the application of 155 CE, dated May 2018, the Catalan Ombudsman expressed its opinion on these sanctions, in accordance with what had been stated in the report of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe on the reform of the Organic Law of the Spanish Constitutional Court (TC): the provisions relating to sanctions for non-compliance are unclear and the sanctions are so severe that they must be considered equivalent to a criminal sanction and, in accordance with the case law of the ECtHR, must enjoy the guarantees of Article 6 ECHR. The imposition of exorbitant fines (up to 12. 12,000 euros per day) by the TC on the members of the Electoral Commission for alleged disobedience to the resolutions aimed at preventing the holding of the referendum confirmed the fears of the Venice Commission, and the Catalan Ombudsman understood that these fines could represent a violation of Article 6 ECHR, especially with regard to the principle of contradiction, since they were imposed without hearing the persons affected and without the right to appeal. The fact that the penalties were finally annulled does not prevent us from affirming that this type of fine can have a dissuasive effect on the exercise of rights and freedoms.

The subsequent criminal prosecution for disobedience against these people, whom the Constitutional Court itself had avoided further prosecution, is incomprehensible, legally disproportionate and typical of a conception of criminal law as an instrument of repression.

The Catalan Ombudsman emphasizes that, although this is the result of the criminal proceedings, the months and years spent under the most serious accusations constitute an attack on rights and freedoms that would have no place in a democratic and lawful state. Investigations and preventive measures that have a dissuasive effect on the exercise of fundamental rights have been strongly criticized by the European Court of Human Rights in numerous judgments and should only be initiated and adopted when there is a certain likelihood of the commission of a serious crime, which in this case is clearly not the case.

Finally, the Catalan Ombudsman recalls that the resolution of the territorial conflict in Catalonia passes through an amnesty law that makes a clean sweep of all criminal proceedings of all persons involved in the events of October 1 and demands a legal referendum that gives the floor to the citizens with all the guarantees to decide the political future of Catalonia.

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The Catalan Ombudsman warns of the serious widening rights crisis during 2020

26/02/2021

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Annual Report 2020 (in Catalan)

Of the year of the COVID-19 the Catalan Ombudsman emphasizes the accessibility to healthcare, the inequality in the education, the vulnerability of the elders in residential care homes, the recklessness on the nature and environment, the housing emergence as a vital element, the impoverishment of labour and entrepreneurship, and the growing erosion of rights and freedoms

During 2020 the Catalan Ombudsman has received 11,317 complaints from 22,476 people and 303 ex officio actions have been initiated

Actions in social policies have accounted for 40% of interventions

A budgetary strengthening is needed in the field of health, education and welfare equating the percentage of the GDP of the countries of northern Europe

In 2020 more than 11,000 complaints have been filed, more than 17,000 have been processed and 303 ex officio actions have also been initiated.

PROTECTION OF SOCIAL RIGHTS

Actions initiated around social policies represent almost 40% of the Catalan Ombudsman’s intervention volume, figures comparable to the worst years of the economic crisis of the last decade.

In the field of poverty and social emergency, the Catalan Ombudsman created the Social Emergency Board to work in a transversal way on the challenges posed by the crisis in the short, medium and long term, with eight social sector entities.

There is no doubt that the right to health has been one of the hardest hit this year. From the very beginning, the Catalan Ombudsman claimed the necessary human and material resources to deal with a crisis such as COVID-19.

The COVID-19 crisis has also highlighted the need to review the current residential care model and its ability to deal with the pandemic with the necessary precautionary and preventive measures.

The pandemic has also had a major impact on children's right to education. In this sense, the Catalan Ombudsman has highlighted the necessary schools opening in the 2020/2021 academic year, despite the challenges it may involve.

In the field of work, the impact of the crisis on people in the self-employed system should be underlined. The Catalan Ombudsman has reported the lack of economic support, such benefits or subsidies.

With regard to housing, the Catalan Ombudsman has stated that structural reforms must be tackled to guarantee the right to housing in the medium and long term.

ENVIRONMENT AND CONSUMER RIGHTS

It is necessary to strengthen environmental protection policies and apply the principle of zero alternative in present and future urban projections, as a way to ensure an environmentally friendly country.

The pandemic has also exacerbated the difficulties many people already face in accessing the electricity social benefit through a procedure that has been identified as complex.

TRANSPARENCY AND GOOD GOVERNANCE

The administrations have introduced the appointment in the provision of face-to-face customer services. It is a useful tool from the point of view of the protection of occupational risks, but in the opinion of the Catalan Ombudsman this cannot suggest not serving citizens without prior appointment that come to register documents or for proceedings that cannot be postponed.

On the other hand, the Catalan Ombudsman has reminded that the lack of registration of people, whatever their housing situation is, not only violates current legislation, but also prevents them from effective access to basic social services and rights.

FREEDOM AND DEMOCRATIC QUALITY

In November 2020, the Catalan Ombudsman began to analyse the electoral contest scheduled for February 14, 2021 from the perspective of reconciling the guarantee of the right to health and the right of participation of all citizens.

Fundamental rights and freedoms have been restricted under successive alarm states. Care must be taken with these limitations of rights, which must rigorously weigh the rights at stake with the need for restrictive measures.

The situation of lockdown has also multiplied situations of racist abuse and violence against women and vulnerable groups. For this reason, the passage of the Equal Treatment and Non-Discrimination Act is good news.

Finally, in the face of current complaints and events, the Catalan Ombudsman reiterates the full democratic exercise of freedom of expression and demonstration and amnesty.

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The Catalan Ombudsman reports violations of rights in the Supreme Court interlocutory decrees that revoke the third degree of prison regime

04/12/2020

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STATEMENT REGARDING THE INTERLOCUTORY DECREES OF THE SPANISH SUPREME COURT OF DECEMBER 4, 2020

  • Giving up one's own ideology should be considered a violation of ideological freedom, as stated by both the Spanish Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights
  • The sentencing court is not the judicial body laid down by law for this matter, since it is not specialized in judicial control of criminal enforcement 

 

On December 4, 2020, the Supreme Court has issued the interlocutory decrees which, following the appeals filed by the public prosecutor, revoke the third degree of prison regime (the lowest category within the prison system) granted by the Secretariat of Criminal Measures, Reintegration and Attention to the Victim of the Catalan Government to the nine people sentenced by the Supreme Court Ruling 459/2019, of October 14, 2019. The application of the "semi-freedom" status of article 100.2 of the Penitentiary Regulations is also denied "due to lack of connection of a treatment program of this type with a process of reintegration of the crimes committed".

Among the reasons to deny criminal enforcement measures to these people are the "lack of regret" and that they have not served half their sentence.

The Catalan Ombudsman published a few weeks ago the report Effects on rights of the criminal enforcement of Supreme Court Ruling 459/2019. On this basis, and in view of the decisions adopted on December 4, 2020, by the Supreme Court, the Catalan Ombudsman considers that it is important to highlight the following considerations:

1. Judicial body laid down by law

The decision to grant the third degree to the nine people deprived of their freedom has gone through a technical process (the treatment boards of the prisons in which they are serving their sentence) and has been endorsed by two different prison supervision courts. The existence of these specialized jurisdictional bodies in the penitentiary field, as specialized bodies entrusted with the control of the legality of the decisions and measures of the penitentiary administration, is a guarantee for the criminal enforcement of the sentences. The intervention in matters of criminal enforcement of the court that issued the sentence, which may be biased by this fact, blurs the guarantee of the rights of people deprived of their freedom, consisting of a judicial control by a specialized and autonomous judicial body, which is in the spirit of the Penitentiary Law.

2. Ideological freedom

To the extent that the prison situation is conditioned to the recognition of the crime, to regret and to a treatment program connected with the crime, the Supreme Court interlocutory decrees could threaten the ideological freedom of the convicted people. These people have never denied the facts and have fully complied with their criminal consequences. To demand that the criminal nature of these acts be accepted or that programs aimed at changing their ideas and beliefs be imposed as prison treatment, as a condition for obtaining a specific prison regime, would constitute a violation of ideological freedom recognized in article 16.1 of the Spanish Constitution and of the freedom of thought recognized in article 9.1 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Giving up one's own ideology should be considered a violation of ideological freedom, in the sense indicated by both the Constitutional Court and the ECHR.

3. Length of the sentence

Certainly, the length of the sentence is one of the variables of articles 102 of the Penitentiary Regulations and 63 of the General Prison Act in order to grant or not a third degree. However, in the case of the nine convicted people, the revocation of the third degree on the basis of the time of completion or the length of the sentence is not justified, and cannot be considered a privileged treatment with respect to other people convicted to long sentences. Prison practice in Catalonia, protected by the law, does not require that in order to be progressed to the third degree, one must have served a quarter of the sentence, not to say half of it, and have had permits. Prison legislation only requires that the person deprived of freedom has a favorable background and record. When this is the case, the person deprived of freedom can be progressed to third degree without having served a quarter of the sentence and even be initially classified as third degree.

4. Inadequate unity of action

The Catalan Ombudsman did not consider appropriate the application of reinsertion mechanisms to a unity of action (same date and same proposed mechanism), since it is more common in prison practice for different people convicted in the same proceeding to be assessed by different treatment boards, with different dates and proposed mechanisms, bearing in mind the principle of scientific individualization. By the same argumentative logic, the interlocutory decrees released on December 4, 2020, by the Supreme Court, although formally separated, do not comply either with the principle of scientific individualization, since they coincide in date, arguments and result, and treat the nine convicted people as a unity of action and not individually.

Taking into account all of the above, the Catalan Ombudsman reaffirms that the progression to the third degree approved by the Catalan penitentiary administration was and is consistent with the law, and that its application is in line with the Catalan penitentiary policy that promotes such mechanisms.

For their information, and as was done with the report of November 13, this statement will be sent to the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and to the Spanish Ombudsman. 

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The Catalan Ombudsman recalls that judicial decisions that affect the ideological freedom of political prisoners are an attack on fundamental rights

13/11/2020

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It questions the intent to condition access to a particular prison treatment to reintegration programs that are meant to inculcate certain ideology in inmates.

The application of the regime of article 100.2 RP (penitentiary regulation) and the progression to third degree by the Catalan penitentiary administration are adjusted to law

The Spanish Supreme Court has declared itself competent to hear penitentiary issues and reintegration mechanisms instead of the specialized courts

Never before had the suspensive effect of the third degree been applied on the occasion of the Prosecutor’s appeal against the administrative decision

The objective situations of the nine convicted people transcend the specific case and could have a detrimental effect on the more than 6,000 convicted people in Catalan prisons.

The Catalan Ombudsman has today submitted the report Effects on rights of the criminal enforcement of Supreme Court ruling 459/2019 before the Parliament of Catalonia. The Catalan Ombudsman, accompanied by the Deputy General, Jaume Saura, also gave a press conference to explain the main points in the media.

The purpose of this report is to analyze the two reintegration instruments provided for in the prison regulations that have been applied to the nine people serving prison sentences for the so-called “Catalan process”, such as the regime of article 100.2 RP and the progression to “third degree”. Both mechanisms have been the subject of an appeal by the Penitentiary Surveillance Prosecutor's Office, on which the Supreme Court has decided or will resolve. 

Regarding the application of the life regime of article 100.2 RP, the Spanish Supreme Court revoked it to Carme Forcadell and is expected to resolve the appeals of Junqueras, Romeva, Rull, Turull, Forn, Sanchez and Cuixart. In relation to Dolors Bassa, the Provincial Court of Girona dismissed the appeal of the Public Prosecutor’s Office for loss of object, since at the time of resolving the appeal Bassa no longer enjoyed the flexible regime and was in the third degree. Against this ruling, the Public Prosecutor’s Office submitted an incident of nullity, as it considers that the Court of Girona did not have jurisdiction to rule on the regime of life.

And with regards to the application of the “third degree” (which basically implies that inmates spend their days out of jail and only sleep therein), the Spanish Supreme Court is pending to resolve the appeals filed by the Prosecutor’s Office against the rulings submitted by the two penitentiary surveillance courts that confirmed the progression to third degree of the nine political prisoners.

After analyzing the situation, the Catalan Ombudsman concludes that the application of the regime of article 100.2 RP and the progression to third degree by the Catalan penitentiary administration are adjusted to law, given that all proposals and decisions have been confirmed by three different and independent prison surveillance courts.

The Catalan Ombudsman also points out that this is the first time that the Spanish Supreme Court established that the sentencing court is competent to know in the last instance the flexible regime of article 100.2. The Supreme Court, as the sentencing body, has declared itself competent to hear penitentiary issues and reintegration mechanisms against the provincial courts, which have a specialized section on penitentiary matters, claiming that the sentencing court cannot lose the control over the execution of the sentence. This fact clearly expresses a certain lack of confidence in penitentiary surveillance judges, which are specialized bodies with specific sensitivity and training, which are not biased by having convicted the individual and value, from a more objective point of view, the evolution of the person deprived of liberty.

In the same regard, it also points out that regarding the third degree, the suspensive effect had never been applied following the Prosecutor’s appeal against the administrative decision. The first time has been in relation to the seven people serving sentences in Lledoners, and has been conditioned by the decision of the Supreme Court of July 22, 2020, so that these seven people have suffered an unequal situation and their rights have been violated.

In addition, the Spanish Supreme Court introduces circumstances that the Law does not provide for to decide on reintegration mechanisms and that, in the opinion of the Catalan Ombudsman, are contrary to the principle of legality. And, in this same regard, the Public Prosecutor's Office focuses on elements that are alien to the circumstances of the implementation of the penalty and makes restrictive interpretations in relation to article 100.2 RP which can be detrimental to other people deprived of their liberty.

The Catalan Ombudsman also questions the intent to condition access to a particular prison treatment to reintegration programs that are meant to inculcate certain ideas in inmates. To force anyone to renounce his own ideology must be considered a violation of ideological freedom, in the sense indicated by both the Spanish Constitutional Court and the ECHR.

In short, the Catalan Ombudsman recalls that inmates are subjects of rights and that any administrative action or judicial decision that attacks their freedom of thought or ideological freedom violates fundamental rights.

As for the prosecution's appeal to the Supreme Court against progressions to the third degree, which describes this situation as an emptying of the judgement, it is unaware that the third degree is a form of enforcement of the sentence, that people classified in this degree are far from free to move anywhere and that they remain subject to the penitentiary system.

In addition to all the above, the Catalan Ombudsman warns that the objective situations set out in the previous conclusions for the nine convicted people transcend the specific case and have an impact on the entire Catalan prison system, and also on the more than 6,000 people convicted in Catalan prisons. For example, the new suspensive effect of prosecution appeals on third-degree and flexible regime can lead to disruption and destabilization of the life of people that enjoy them, as is already happening as a result of the ruling of the Spanish Supreme Court.

On the other hand, the Catalan Ombudsman states that it is necessary to continue pursuing on the instruments of reintegration that exist in the penitentiary legislation and, in this sense, it can be a good opportunity to review the approved circulars on flexible regime, as the current circular was passed in 2005 and includes elements that currently do not have a practical application, and further promote the application of Article 100.2 RP.

To their knowledge and consideration, in addition to the Parliament of Catalonia, this report will be forwarded to the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and to the Spanish Ombudsman.

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