The Spanish Royal Court and the rule of law

The Royal Palace of Madrid, the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family.

News that Spanish Princess Cristina has been requested to appear in court as a witness to her husband’s alleged embezzlement provides the perfect opportunity to remind governments around the world that in order for a judiciary do its job, it must be truly independent and free of political interference.

In the case of Cristina, the government prosecutor has fought with the judge and used many legal tactics to prevent her from being called as a witness. This is unusual in that it is usually the prosecutor in a case who calls for witnesses to assist the prosecution.

In recent years, judges in several corruption cases in Spain have been removed from cases, reassigned elsewhere or even expelled from the judiciary. The most famous example is that of Baltasar Garzon. In November 2010, more than 1,500 Spanish judges criticised the influence of political parties on the judicial system, exposing publicly what was considered an open secret among Spanish lawyers.

Corruption in the courthouse is a major concern for the Spanish people: According to Transparency International’s 2013 Global Corruption Barometer, 51 per cent of Spaniards believe that the judiciary is corrupt or extremely corrupt, with 83 per cent believing the same about political parties.

Transparency International firmly believes that governments that ensure independent and effective judiciaries free of political interference can stop those who get away with corruption again and again.

The role of the royal family in Spain is very sensitive; many feel the institution was “Seminal in the transition to democracy in Spain, and is seminal for its prestige abroad,” as the Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo said last April.

But for the past several years, the Spanish royalty has been slipping in popularity, with King Juan Carlos, past honorary president of WWF, recently being pictured in Botswana on a hunting trip beside a dead elephant. This image has not been helped by the recent indictment of his daughter Cristina whose husband, Iñaki Urdangarin, was charged with embezzlement of €5.8 million of public funds.

Still, it should be noted that in the King’s Christmas message, he called for transparency and emphasised that all Spanish citizens should comply with the rule of law.

We agree, and to ensure the rule of law in Spain is upheld, it is essential that the judiciary is able to effectively and impartially proceed as needed with its investigation.

Carousel image: Creative commons, Flickr / Druidabruxux

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Tim Bergman

About Tim Bergman

Tim Bergman is Regional Officer in the Europe and Central Asia department at Transparency International.

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