FOCUS: At Catalan separatist trial, judge Marchena walks tightrope

At the helm of the hugely divisive trial of Catalan separatist leaders, Supreme Court judge Manuel Marchena is performing a difficult balancing act, alternating firmness and leniency in live proceedings.

FOCUS: At Catalan separatist trial, judge Marchena walks tightrope
Judge Marchena has already shown a degree of leniency towards the defendants. Photo: AFP

Seen as close to the conservative Popular Party (PP), which has taken a hard line against Catalan separatists, Marchena has trodden carefully in a trial he knows is under the domestic and foreign spotlight.

“At stake is his prestige, the prestige of the Supreme Court as well as the international image of Spain's judiciary,” Xavier Vidal-Folch, deputy director of the El Pais daily, told Spanish radio on Wednesday.

He described Marchena as handling the proceedings “with great skill, with a little subtle irony and a lot of flexibility”.   

“Let's be serious,” Marchena told one defence lawyer when refusing his demand to have Catalonia's former president Carles Puigdemont — the main protagonist of a failed secession attempt in 2017 who fled Spain — testify as a witness.

“You can't be a witness in the morning and a defendant in the afternoon.” 

But the 59-year-old judge, who has since 2014 presided over the criminal division of the Supreme Court, has also reprimanded prosecutors for some of their questions.


Nine of the 12 defendants currently on trial at Madrid's Supreme Court. Photo: AFP

He also cut short the popular prosecution, a Spain-specific set-up that allows any citizen or organisation to be an accuser in court alongside public prosecutors — in this case far-right party Vox.

Marchena warned the lawyer representing Vox that he would not allow “an ideological debate” in the courtroom.

An eye on Europe

The trial against 12 Catalan separatist leaders and activists, nine of whom are accused of rebellion, raised passions even before it started on February 12th.

It is fiercely rejected by independence supporters in Catalonia but also fiercely supported by many Spaniards who watched aghast as Catalonia's executive tried to break from Spain in October 2017.

Such were the accusations of partiality levelled against Spain's judiciary that the proceedings are being broadcast live on television in an effort at transparency.

And Marchena has showed a degree of leniency towards the defendants.   

When the popular prosecution asked him to tell one defendant to remove a yellow ribbon he was wearing that has come to symbolise the independence movement's cause, he overruled it.

On the first day of the trial, Marchena “gave time and absolute freedom to all sorts of arguments”, legal or political, from the defence lawyers, says Celso Rodriguez Padron, spokesman for the conservative-leaning Magistrates' Professional Association.

To support some of his decisions, Marchena has referred to legal precedents set by the European Court of Human Rights, knowing the defendants will likely take the case to the European body, says Ignacio Gonzalez Vega, spokesman for the progressive Judges for Democracy professional association.

WhatsApp controversy

Even before the trial, Catalan independence supporters were wary of Marchena, who will be writing up the sentence at the end.   

Some of those on trial tried in vain to recuse him, claiming he was impartial and had alleged links to the PP, in power at the time of the secession bid.

They cited as an example a leaked WhatsApp message by conservative senator Ignacio Cosido who in November welcomed the promotion of Marchena at the head of the Supreme Court.

Cosido said it would allow the conservatives to “control” the court “behind the scenes”, raising doubts over Marchena's independence.   

After the controversy this generated, Marchena gave up the promotion and remained at the head of the criminal division of the Supreme Court.   

Gonzalez Vega tells AFP Marchena is indeed a conservative judge.   

But his supporters point to his track record as a prosecutor before he was named Supreme Court judge in 2007, and since then.

He “is a very well qualified magistrate, and there is no doubt over his independence,” says Julio Perez Gil, a professor of procedural law at the University of Burgos who knows him personally.

By AFP's Diego Urdaneta 

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14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local

Barcelona is a popular city for foreign residents in Spain thanks to its coastal location, many international companies and great lifestyle. However, navigating life here can take some getting used to, so here are our top Barcelona life hacks to help make things easier for you.

14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local
Barcelona life hacks. Image: Michal Jarmoluk / Pixabay

Invest in a good water filter

Barcelona tap water doesn’t taste the best, particularly in the areas around the Old Town such as El Born, the Gothic Quarter, Barceloneta and Raval. The water is also very hard, meaning that it leaves limescale on appliances such as your kettle.

Using a good water filter can improve the taste and make sure that limescale doesn’t build up. It’s also much more economical and healthier than buying bottled water every time you want a drink.

Use the Rodalies trains to get across the city faster

Many people when they first move to Barcelona just use the metro and don’t bother using the Rodalies trains. While it’s not always necessary, for certain journeys it can make getting across the city much faster.

For example, if you need to get from Sant Andreu or Clot to Sants to connect to one of the intercity trains, it’s only two or three stops on the Rodalies, as opposed to more than 10 on the metro, as well as changing to different lines.

Don’t try and get anything important done in August

This is probably true of most of Spain, but if you need to get anything important done, whether official paperwork or renovations on your apartment, don’t try and get them done in August.

The whole city goes on holiday for the month of August, including office personnel, builders and handypeople. If you need to get any of this done, it’s best to get it done before the holidays or to wait until September.  

Don’t buy drinks from sellers on the beach or in the park

You’ll find many people selling drinks on the city’s beaches and in the main Ciutadella Park. While it can be tempting to buy these, especially when it’s so hot, you need to be aware that these cans of drinks are often stored inside drains or under manhole covers, meaning that they’re not the cleanest.

A few years ago, El País took the mojitos sold by hawkers on the beaches to a local lab. The results came back a few days later to show that they contained high levels of fecal matter and bacteria in them.

Barcelona’s Chinese supermarkets are a great source of ingredients

Although you can now find many more foreign ingredients in local supermarkets than you could just a few years ago, there are still many that you may miss from back home, particularly South East Asian and Indian ingredients.

Barcelona has several excellent Chinese supermarkets, where you can find a range of ingredients, everything from sesame oil and Thai curry paste to Indian spices and affordable peanut butter.

Don’t take valuables out with you to certain areas, particularly at night

Unfortunately, bag snatchings and pickpockets are still commonplace in Barcelona. While the thieves mainly target tourists, foreign residents often find that they are targets too.

The trick is to blend in like a local, look like you know where you’re going and don’t take valuables with you to areas such as the Gothic Quarter, Raval or the Rambla, especially at night. Bag snatchings in El Born have also increased in recent years, so keep your wits about you around there too. 

Find your favourite beach outside of the city

Barcelona’s beaches may have been one of your prime reasons for moving here, but you’ll find that you actually prefer the beaches outside of the city.

Overcrowded, dangerous and a lot dirtier than other beaches in the area, the beaches in Barcelona are unfortunately not all that they’re cracked up to be. You’ll often find that after you’ve been for a swim, your valuables will not still be on the sand where you left them. Head just 15 to 20 minutes outside of the city however and you’ll find the beaches are far nicer and safer.

Find a beach outside of the city centre to go to. Photo: makunin /Pixabay

Try to join several different clubs or groups

Barcelona is a very transient city, meaning that people are moving here and leaving all the time. As a result, you’ll often find that most of the friends you made when first moving here have now moved away and you’ll constantly need to make more. If you join several clubs and groups, you’ll find that making new friends all the time is a lot easier. 

Don’t buy a single transport ticket

It’s never really worth buying a single transport ticket in Barcelona, because you’ll end up spending much more money per journey than you would if you bought the T-Casual (10 journeys) or the monthly T-Usual metro card instead.

You can also buy 10-journey bono tickets for the Rodalies trains, which will also save a lot of money if you’re making regular journeys out of the city. 

Try and avoid shopping at Port del Angel on Saturdays

Port del Angel is Barcelona’s main pedestrianised shopping street. While it’s great and has all the high-street fashion shops you want, it can be a nightmare shopping here on Saturdays.

If you do need to shop on a Saturday, try Rambla Catalunya or one of the shopping malls instead, which won’t be so crowded.

Be prepared for festivals and events

Barcelona holds so many festivals and events that it can be hard to keep up. In normal (non-Covid) years, there is one every other week.

Because of this tickets sell out quickly and there are many fun cultural events that you might miss out on. Keep your calendar up to date, so you know what’s going on, and make sure to book tickets for anything you want to see, well in advance. 

Tipping isn’t necessary at all bars and restaurants

Tipping isn’t all that common in Barcelona, unless perhaps if it’s a particularly nice restaurant or if there’s a large group of you that the waiter has had to look after.

You’ll find that it’s not expected either, except maybe at some of the city’s very touristy restaurants.  

READ ALSO: Why do Catalans have a reputation for being stingy?

Do lots of research before renting an apartment and if it sounds too good to be true, then it is

Unfortunately, there are lots of property scams in Barcelona, so try and do as much research as you can beforehand. Never pay money upfront before you’ve seen the property and received the keys.

Also, be aware that many landlords will not return your deposit at the end of your stay.

Many people get around this by not paying the last month’s rent, but this can also make things difficult for the good landlords who may genuinely need to deduct something for damages, so speak with your estate agency on the best thing to do in this situation.

READ ALSO: What you should know about renting an apartment in Barcelona

Hire a gestor or lawyer to help with immigration and tax issues

You’ll save yourself a lot of time and hassle with immigration and tax issues if you hire a professional to help you in Barcelona, where getting a cita previa (appointment) for official matters can often be difficult, in part because these law firms often bulk book them.

However, there are certain processes that you won’t need an immigration lawyer for such as getting a residency certificate if you’re from an EU country or exchanging your green residency certificate for a TIE if you are British and moved here before the end of 2020.

READ ALSO: BREXIT: How to apply for a TIE residency card in Spain