SPAIN’s Supreme Court (TS) is expected to rule this week whether it is competent to judge the cases of Catalonia’s political prisoners and others charged in connection with the October 2017 independence referendum – 1-O as it is known in the wealthy north-eastern region.

The judges’ decision follows a hearing last week, during which lawyers for the accused tried to have the trials heard at the High Court of Justice of Catalonia (TSJ), challenging that if any crime were committed, it was committed in Catalonia itself, so should fall within the Barcelona court’s remit.

While that might seem a perfectly reasonable argument it is unlikely to find favour among the Spanish judiciary, which is independent – in theory at least – but seen as heavily politicised.

The TS, which sits in Madrid, is chaired by judge and prosecutor Manuel Marchena, president of the court’s criminal chamber.

Last month he emerged as a favourite to be the next president of the Supreme Court and its governing body the General Council of the Judiciary, which would have prevented him hearing the 1-O cases. He withdrew his name for the candidacy on November 20.

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There are 18 accused in this stage of the trial and prosecutors have called for severe sentences in more than half the cases – ranging from seven years’ jail for Caries Mundo for alleged misappropriation of public funds and serious disobedience, to 25 years for former vice president Oriol Junqueras, for allegedly being the leader of the rebellion, and illegal diversion of public funds.

Defence lawyers are demanding the acquittal of all 18.

However, this week’s decision – which will be given orally – is still far from the beginning of the matter. The court will be ready to present what it sees as the facts of the case – from the prosecutor’s office, the state prosecutor and the far-right Vox party – in what is, by any standard, a complex case. But the TS has denied defence teams 90 days to present their cases and these will have to be submitted by the middle of next month, which would indicate a trial start date between the third week and the end of January.

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The total number of accused – including those on less serious charges – is 80, so the trials will be dogged with logistical problems such as accommodating them, lawyers and hundreds of journalists from around the world. European elections will be held in May and the TS is likely to want the trials to start before campaigning gets under way.

There is also the question of whether or not the trials will be televised, as regularly happens with TS cases.

One of the objectives of the pro-independence camp is taking the 1-O trials to an international audience and it will be interesting to see if the TS will allow proceedings to be broadcast, handing the defence what could turn out to be a trump card.