HUNDREDS of flag-waving independence supporters gathered outside a court in Barcelona yesterday, where the speaker of the Catalan parliament denied she had committed a crime by letting the assembly vote on a referendum on secession from Spain.

Carme Forcadell had been called to the Spanish Constitutional Court to explain why she had allowed parliament to vote in July to continue its plan for independence by allowing the debate, in defiance of a previous ruling from the court – Spain’s highest.

The parliament had defied a previous resolution to embark on an 18-month roadmap to independence, with or without consent from the central government in Madrid.

Forcadell arrived at the court on foot, accompanied by Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, his predecessor Artur Mas, the entire Catalan executive and numerous political supporters.

She told supporters: “If citizens are allowed to discuss independence on the streets, the MPs should be allowed to do so in the Parliament.”

During her 40-minute appearance Forcadell said no court could stop parliament from debating independence or anything else that affected the interests of a country’s citizens. “The day that they say what we can talk about and what we can’t, democracy is over,” she said.

“I have said I have always acted in accordance with my duties as Parliament president. When this chamber defends freedom of expression, it does so for everyone, those in favour of an issue and those against it.”

Support for the Catalan cause has come from across Europe, including Scotland, Ireland and Wales, Germany, Denmark and Slovenia.

Albert Royo Marine, secretary general of the Diplomatic Council of Catalonia (Diplocat) told The National: “This issue is crossing borders. We have received supportive messages from all around Europe.

“Ms Forcadell’s is not the only case. There are currently up to 400 ongoing trial cases against Catalan elected officials.

“If the Spanish government insists in impeding the basic functioning of a democratic system and keeps prosecuting democratically elected politicians, it may put Spain’s democracy at stake.

“The European Union and the international community should react to this or it may become a very dangerous precedent in a Western European country.”

Catalan government spokesperson Neus Munté said: “It is absolutely incomprehensible that in the 21st century and within a state which it is supposed to be democratic, political questions are responded through justice.”

Liz Castro, national secretary of the Catalan National Assembly said the court will make a decision later to see if there is enough evidence to prosecute Forcadell.

“If they decide to try her that will be another big deal and will cause considerable consternation.

“If the court tried her and convicted her of allowing this debate, they can decide whether they remove her from office. But both the Catalan president and former mayor of Barcelona made declarations today saying that she is the democratically-elected president of the parliament and nobody’s going to remove her from office except the people.”

She added that the whole matter came down to the politicisation of the courts. “If you look at the make-up of the court, its chief justice is a former card-carrying member of the [conservative] Popular Party (PP) of Spain. How can the pretend to be unbiased?”

Sergi Marcen, head of the Catalan Delegation to London, told The National: “In order to be able to start a genuine negotiation we need the Spanish government to begin dialogue with the Catalan government as we have asked them several times over the last years.

“Courts should not be used to stop the debate that the Catalan society is having at large.”

The judges could take weeks, or months, to reach a decision in the case, but the Catalan government it determined that it will host a summit on December 23, to take forward its plans for the independence roadmap.