A young Spanish politician who became a symbol of change when he joined parliament in 2016 will oppose a decision to revoke his seat after being found guilty of assaulting a police officer.
Dreadlocked Alberto RodrÃguez made headlines in January 2016 when he took office as representative of the left-wing Podemos party, shortly after the elections that marked the end of the two-party system in Spain.
But last Friday, House Speaker Meritxell Batet decided to revoke RodrÃguez’s legislative status due to a Supreme Court ruling that found him guilty of kicking a police officer during ‘a 2014 public event in La Laguna, on the Canary Island of Tenerife.
Batet’s announcement sparked a new crisis between the partners of the Spanish coalition, the Socialist Party (PSOE) and Unidas Podemos. It also highlighted a clash between the legislature and the judiciary, with the court saying parliamentary officials, who initially said RodrÃguez could retain his seat despite the ruling, were “reinterpreting” the judge’s ruling.
Leaders of Unidas Podemos, the junior member of Spain’s minority government and itself made up of Podemos and other leftist groups, quickly suggested the possibility of a criminal complaint against the Speaker of the House who they say deliberately made an illegal decision. But with tensions rapidly escalating between the two coalition partners – Batet is a member of the PSOE – Unidas Podemos officials quickly noted that the complaint would not be filed by the party itself, but rather by RodrÃguez to personal title.
Over the weekend, it emerged that RodrÃguez was leaving Podemos and ultimately would not file a criminal complaint against Batet. Instead, he will resort to the Spanish Constitutional Court and take his case to the European Court of Human Rights. This change in strategy comes after RodrÃguez changed lawyers and hired the same cabinet that represents Carles Puigdemont, the ex-prime minister of Catalonia who fled to Belgium after leading a failed unilateral secession attempt in 2017 RodrÃguez, who until now was represented by a Podemos. lawyer, said he now needed “an independent team with expertise in the European environment”.
In a statement, the representative of the Canary Islands called the decision to remove him from his status as an MP as “abusive” and a violation of his rights. He accuses Meritxell Batet of granting himself “powers which he lacks” and of “modifying [court] sentence. “He also said that Batet’s actions” violate the most fundamental principles of popular sovereignty and democracy in the Spanish state “.
A day earlier, RodrÃguez had also announced that he was leaving Podemos, where he once served as the organization’s secretary. In a statement, he said “you have to know when to end a cycle.” He added that “the PSOE gave in under the pressure of the justice” and that it was condemned by the Supreme Court “without proof”.
Origins of the dispute
RodrÃguez was found guilty of kicking a policeman during a protest in 2014 and sentenced to 45 days in prison, although this was changed to a fine of â¬ 540, which he paid. The sentence also included a habilitaciÃ³n de sufragio pasivo – a ban on the right to passive suffrage, that is to say the right to stand for election. And this is where legal disputes begin.
The legal team advising the Spanish parliament believe the sentence means RodrÃguez cannot stand for election, but cannot be stripped of the seat he already holds. The Supreme Court considers that although RodrÃguez has paid the fine, the other part of the sentence has not yet been served and involves the revocation of his parliamentary powers. Last week he asked parliament when it would implement the decision, which is seen as pressure on the legislature.
Although there is no case law to rely on, some legal sources have stated that it could be interpreted that RodrÃguez is not eligible to be a Member of Parliament because he does not follow the nomination rules of the Spain because of his prison sentence. Others openly question whether the suspension of the right to passive suffrage can be applied retroactively.
âThe legal literature clearly shows that being deprived of the right to passive suffrage does not lead to the loss of the post you hold at that time,â said Jacobo Dopico, professor of criminal law at the Carlos III University in Madrid. . “The fact of being deprived of the right to be elected to a public post during the term of the sentence does not extend to being deprived of posts obtained previously, even those obtained during elections”, recognized the professor of right Josep Maria Tamarit.
The legal team advising Congress took the same view in a report released on Monday last week, saying the convicted person would not be eligible to run for office for the length of the sentence – in this case, 45 days – but would not lose the right to occupy existing positions.
The Socialist Party gave in under pressure from the courts
Alberto RodrÃguez, former legislator
But Supreme Court Judge Manuel Marchena, who heads the court’s criminal division, rejected this view and a few hours later sent the Speaker of the House a document reminding him that the sentence against RodrÃguez had not yet executed.
Borja Mapelli, professor of criminal law at the University of Seville, agrees with the Supreme Court. “If he is prohibited from being elected to a public office, it follows that he must lose his current public office,” he said. âYou have lost the trust expected of people in public office, so you have to give it up. A reasonable interpretation of the law is that these additional penalties, which are accompanied by a term of imprisonment, render the latter incompatible with the performance of public office.
But this type of retrospective ineligibility is “an unacceptable trap in the rule of law,” said JosÃ© Antonio MartÃn PallaÃn, former judge of the Supreme Court. The Spanish constitution, he said, guarantees that sanctions restricting individual rights cannot be applied retroactively.
MartÃn PallaÃn was very critical of this theory of retroactive ineligibility, which, according to him, has been developed in recent years âin a disturbing wayâ and specifically adapted to Catalan separatist politicians, some of whom have been excluded from their positions. functions. “This is an unfavorable judicial interpretation that cannot be upheld with our Constitution in our hands.”