THE trial of Catalan pro-independence leaders has no legal basis, according to a legal group that has been investigating Spain’s judicial leadership and “corrupt practices” which it alleged have gone on for years.

Lluís Mestres, a lawyer with the Associació Atenes (Athens Association), said the whole process is illegal, as the court was “presiding over a case in the full knowledge that no crime has been committed”.

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The group has been working behind the scenes since the crackdown that followed the October 2017 referendum and has lodged two complaints – one concerning the appointment of several judges with links to the then-ruling Popular Party (PP), the other against Mariano Rajoy’s government for violating exiled former leader Carles Puigdemont’s political rights by preventing him being voted in as president.

Writing on the VilaWeb website, Mestres said there was an attempt to respect “proper legal safeguards” when the case reached the Spanish Supreme Court.

However, he said it was a disaster from the start: “They violated the most basic rights due to any defence.

“You can’t inform someone who lives in Barcelona that the next day they have to be in Madrid and appear before the National Court when it’s a bank holiday, giving them less than 24 hours to study the charges brought against them. This is a serious breach of protocol.

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“But once the process was underway, although there were certain instances in which they didn’t follow the correct procedures to the letter, one can see that the Supreme made an attempt to adhere to the procedural guarantees so that no one could accuse them of ignoring them.”

However, he said ultimately this was window-dressing.

“The whole case is totally illegal, since they’re presiding over a case in the full knowledge that no crime has been committed. It’s that serious. I can’t believe a Supreme Court judge can say there’s evidence that a crime has been committed. No lawyer with a modicum of dignity would say that the case is based on actual crimes.”

Mestres said the court’s strategy was to hear the case, even though it was outwith its jurisdiction, and it appeared to feel it was acting in the national interest.

The court had invented a legal excuse arguing that because the Catalan referendum affected Spain as a whole, then the country’s highest court – the Supreme – had to hear the case.

“This is an argument seriously lacking a legal basis,” said Mestres. “Some of the defendants in this unique trial have only been charged with disobedience.

“And obviously the highest court in the land can’t hear a case of disobedience. So in order to ensure the outcome isn’t challenged, these defendants are being sent to the High Court of Justice of Catalonia (HCJC).

“But it’s basically a tactical move; the Supreme’s decision isn’t grounded on legal criteria, it’s due to strategic reasons and self-interest. They’re interested in being able to get the case over as quickly as possible and making the actual trial as short as possible.”