The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled on Tuesday that Belgium’s decision to refuse the extradition of Catalan pro-independence official Lluís Puig to Spain is not legal — unless it finds ‘systemic deficiencies’ in Spain’s judicial system.
‘An executing judicial authority may not, in principle, refuse to execute a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) on the basis that the court called upon to try the requested person in the issuing Member State does not have jurisdiction to do so,’ a ruling published on Tuesday said.
However, it also added, that the ‘authority must, however, refuse to execute that EAW if it finds that there are systemic or generalised deficiencies affecting the judicial system of that Member State and that the court called upon to try the requested person in that Member State clearly lacks jurisdiction’.
Spain has unsuccessfully tried to get Belgium to hand over former Catalan government member Lluís Puig since he and ex-Catalan president Carles Puigdemont left Barcelona along with others following their illegal 2017 referendum.
The court’s judgment now also sets a precedent for the cases of Puigdemont, Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí, who are all now MEPs, and for whom the CJEU temporarily restored Parliamentary immunity in May 2022.
Their extradition procedure is currently on hold and the court’s final judgment on immunity is expected to arrive in March.
The Belgian courts justified their repeated refusals by agreeing with Puig that Spain’s Supreme Court, which requested his extradition, lacked jurisdiction — instead arguing that a lower court in Catalonia should take the case — and that he would not get a fair trial.
However, the European court based in Luxembourg, in a ruling made on a request by Spain’s Supreme Court to clarify the situation, said an EU country should only refuse to execute a European Arrest Warrant issued by another member state under ‘exceptional’ circumstances.
That would mean, the court said, that a judge would have to determine that the person to be extradited would be at risk of not receiving a fair trial.
The court also said that Spain could issue a new arrest warrant for Puig.
Puig, however, celebrated the decision from Brussels, saying ‘we will continue our fight’.
Speaking to the media at midday following the ruling, former Catalan president Puigdemont also said that extradition processes were now ‘dead’ and that the conditions to request further arrest warrants are ‘inviable’.
Puig’s lawyer, Gonzalo Boye, who also represents Puigdemont, has repeatedly said that their defence is founded on the claim that Spain’s judiciary is biased against Catalan independence.
But the spokeswoman for Spain’s government, Isabel Rodríguez, said that the decision backs the position of Spain’s Supreme Court and reduces the options for Puig and Puigdemont.
‘This decision appears to mean that it will make it easier for Puigdemont to finally stand before a Spanish court,’ she said.
Nine Catalan politicians and activists were eventually jailed for between 9-13 years by the Spanish Supreme Court in October 2019, convicted of sedition and misuse of funds, with the verdicts causing widespread protests across Catalonia. In June 2021, the nine walked free from prison, following the pardons granted by the coalition government led by Pedro Sánchez.
Since becoming prime minister in June 2018, Sánchez has adopted a strategy of ‘defusing’ the conflict in Catalonia following the failed 2017 independence bid.
In December, Spanish MPs voted in favour of a controversial criminal code reform that changed the crime of sedition to ‘aggravated public disorder’, in a move that opposition parties see as the government courting Catalan pro-independence support ahead of this year’s elections.
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#ECJ: An executing judicial authority may not, in principle, refuse to execute a #EAW on the basis that the court called upon to try the requested person in the issuing Member State does not have jurisdiction to do so @LluisPuigGordi 👉 https://t.co/ATb3CgbPxg— EU Court of Justice (@EUCourtPress) January 31, 2023