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Catalonia starts seeking judges for a future independent state

Authorities deny claim that they are looking for “people who think like themselves”

Santiago Vidal is leading the judge recruitment drive in Catalonia.
Santiago Vidal is leading the judge recruitment drive in Catalonia. EL PAÍS

The Catalan government has begun looking for hundreds of judges and other officers of the court to replace those who will leave if the region breaks away from Spain.

Approximately 250 judges, 170 prosecutors and 200 court clerks currently attached to the Spanish Justice Ministry are expected to walk out in the event of secession.

There are around 800 judges and magistrates working in the northeastern region, which is holding pivotal elections this Sunday.

Although officially just a routine vote to choose the new members of the Catalan parliament, secessionists are casting the ballot as a de facto referendum on independence.

Vidal says the Catalan government wants a “completely depoliticized” justice system

If his Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes) bloc wins an absolute majority of seats, Catalan premier Artur Mas says he will feel legitimized to move ahead with his breakaway plans.

The recruitment drive is being headed by Santiago Vidal, a judge who sits on the Barcelona Provincial Court but was suspended for three years for helping draft a Catalan Constitution.

The General Council of the Judiciary, Spain’s legal watchdog, removed Vidal from his duties in February. On July 1, he was hired by the Catalan justice department to head the drafting of a white paper on justice in Catalonia.

Vidal has told EL PAÍS that the Catalan justice commissioner, Germà Gordó, asked him for an estimate of how many judges, prosecutors and court clerks would leave if Catalonia becomes a new state.

His reply was around 250 judges, 170 prosecutors and 200 court clerks. All these professionals are attached to national agencies and on the payroll of the Spanish Justice Ministry.

Vidal has already interviewed several experienced lawyers to encourage them to apply for a position, if and when a new Catalan state announces vacancies.

One of the interviewees told EL PAÍS that, according to Vidal, candidate selection would be based on merit and a personal interview. During this lawyer’s meeting with Vidal, the latter allegedly said that selected candidates would have to show commitment to the new state.

Vidal denies having made such a statement, and insists that it is the Catalan government’s desire to have a “completely depoliticized” justice system.

Official figures show that on January 1, 2014 there were 793 judges and magistrates working in Catalonia out of a national total of 5,362. There is also a pool of 100 or so substitute judges who could immediately join the new Catalan justice system if they so wished.

But even that is not enough, says Vidal. That is why he has been seeking experienced lawyers to act as judges in the new hypothetical state. The conditions are having at least 10 years’ experience in law and flawless Catalan, both spoken and written.

“They are looking for a very specific type of person who thinks like them,” said one of the interviewees.

English version by Susana Urra.