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A cool head and a warm heart

Efficacy is not always measured in terms of speed.

We have always argued that politics and justice follow different paces and many times I have given examples to show just how true this is. At times it is surprising that justice should take such a long time to do its job, that it might fail to speed up the issue of a ruling; or that deadlines should sometimes be extended for reasons that are hard to grasp. However, justice has its own set of rules and they follow a different logic from politics.

Efficacy is not always measured in terms of speed. A justice system that aims to safeguard individual rights requires time to perform checks, a system of resources, and validity when it comes to proving facts. Jumping the gun is hardly advisable. Of course, none of it can account for unjustified delays, nor am I arguing for a sluggish justice system. I am merely trying to explain why different velocities coexist. As a result, what is easily explained on paper becomes much more complex in actual practice.

For instance, now we find that Catalonia’s High Court is in the early stages of gathering evidence on the hypothetical culpability of Catalan president Artur Mas and three of his ministers for their involvement in the non-binding referendum of November 9 last year. And yet the whole nation is not concerned with this matter, but with the upcoming plebiscite elections of September 27, which stem from the Spanish government’s refusal to accept a binding referendum. Presumably, by the time this affair is resolved (I am not even accounting for any appeals) Catalonia’s  political situation may have changed so much that the the ruling could be altogether inconsequential. On the other hand, the Palau case (1), which has shaken Catalan society after waiting for six years since it first erupted, is now wrapping up and the Barcelona Court only needs to set a time and a date for the trial. And this time there is no chance of an appeal.

It should be noted that the “weapons” used by the Catalan and Spanish governments in their head-on clash are rather different to date. President Mas’ main argument in support of the independence process is the grassroots movement, the general public’s involvement and, theoretically, supporting the wish for independence of many. There is no doubt that Catalans did not get this far by chance or deception, nor without arguments, even though the recession played in its favour. While we must agree that it straddled the law, the mock referendum of November 9 might be a clear example of this. The elections on September 27 are indeed a further consequence. You may agree or not with the independence bid but, either way, it is clear that most of the standing parties support self-determination. Only five years ago, this was unthinkable ...

President Rajoy’s main counterargument has always been to uphold the law and enforce the existing legal framework, forever sticking to his guns. Nothing is allowed to change. His weapons --let’s call them instruments, if you like-- are the countless appeals to the Constitutional Court, the lawsuit by the General Prosecutor following the vote of November 9 --filed despite the opposition of Catalonia’s own prosecutors-- and, to sum up, the deployment of the state’s legal machinery. Alas, we have often wished we had State Attorneys of our own, plus a better understanding of public law.

But both approaches have a limited shelf life. In the case of Mas’, the upcoming elections will allow us to gauge, for the first time and without query, the actual strength of the pro-independence forces. This time it is for real, it is no game and the results will precisely determine a particular course of action, if the Yes camp actually obtains a majority. In this scenario, Rajoy’s threat to use the legal machinery would definitely be futile, including a hypothetical (to me, extremely difficult, if not impossible) suspension of Catalan devolution. Should the Yes win by a narrow margin, the scenario would be altogether different. In my view, that situation would require managing the election results prudently and at a difference pace. Finally, if the No won, the “legal threats” would vanish, as they would no longer serve any purpose.

We have never been faced with such a situation before. That is why I am not sure whether the end of this piece was inspired by summer time or the kind people I recently met on a short trip to Asturias and Cantabria. Or perhaps it stems from an irrational confidence that it will all end well. At any rate, I would like to identify with this saying by Confucius: “always keep a cool head, a warm heart and an outstretched hand”. That is how I would like to feel on September 28.

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(1) N.T. The case of Catalonia’s Palau de la Música is a high-profile story involving the former general manager of the institution and his aides, who allegedly conspired to embezzle funds.