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Legal watchdog says parts of Citizen Safety Law are not constitutional

CGPJ joins a host of other critics of a government bill aimed at cracking down on street protests

A meeting of the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ) in December of last year.
A meeting of the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ) in December of last year.

As was expected, Spain’s legal watchdog on Thursday unanimously approved a report that finds parts of the government’s controversial Citizen Safety Law “unconstitutional.”

In doing so, the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ) joins other state bodies, political parties and social groups that have condemned the draft legislation, which would introduce much tougher penalties for those partaking in street demonstrations or involved in activities considered to constitute public disorder.

The Interior Ministry this week told EL PAÍS that it is willing to make changes to the Fernández law – as it is popularly referred to, after Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz – to ensure all aspects of it are fully constitutional.

Presented in November, the bill includes fines of up to €30,000 for shouting slogans or carrying signs “that are harmful or abusive to Spain or any region” during a protest. It also focuses heavily on breaking up street demonstrations, and grants private security guards with the power to help the police in this task.

The bill includes fines of
up to €30,000 for shouting
slogans or carrying signs

Critics say that the legislation seems tailor-made for the Popular Party (PP) government to quell public displays of citizen discontent over its handling of the economic crisis and the corruption cases that have come to light over recent years.

The CGPJ report states, among other things, that allowing the police to arrest people over “minor offenses or administrative infractions” is “of questionable constitutionality.” It also opposes letting private security guards and companies help law enforcement officers break up demonstrations. Criminalizing so-called escraches (public protests outside an elected official’s home) is also deemed excessive.

Other items under scrutiny include making protest organizers responsible for whatever happens during a march. This entire item should be stricken from the bill, the CGPJ says.

The report goes on to say that the draft law sanctions conduct that can hardly be construed as a danger to public safety, and that there is a clear lack of proportionality in the punishment doled out for certain behavior.

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