A TEAM of international observers at the trial of 12 Catalan independence leaders have identified a potential “lack of impartiality” from the senior judge overseeing the proceedings.

The assessment of the fifth week of the trial from International Trial Watch (ITW) focussed largely on the court president Manuel Marchena, and came as 24 officers from Spain’s Civil Guard prepared to start giving evidence today about their September 2017 raids on Catalan government offices in search of material connected with the indyref.

ITW said it had previously noted that Marchena was limiting cross-examination of witnesses by defence lawyers, particularly on matters that the examination-in-chief had not addressed.

“This is a limitation not foreseen by the law and from which this week the most negative consequences emerge,” said ITW.

It happened during questioning by prosecutors of former head of the Catalan police Josep Lluis Trapero, when he denied his force, Mossos d’Esquadra, had facilitated the holding of a referendum.

He went on to say: “The Catalan police operation had no objective other than complying with court orders.”

His candid response to the interrogation appeared to take prosecutors by surprise and Marchena later stepped in to ask further questions of the former police chief.

“This way of proceeding could be an indication of a lack of objective impartiality of the court in accordance with the doctrine of the European Court of Human Rights,” said the observers.

Another example of potential lack of impartiality was the fact that two of the judges are also members of the Central Electoral Board (JEC) and the trial has to be suspended if they attended its meetings. The suspensions can last from 20 minutes to 10 hours, said ITW.

The JEC is the same body that gave President Quim Torra 48 hours last week to remove Catalan flags and yellow ribbons – symbols of support for the political prisoners – from public buildings in Catalonia.

He refused, and was yesterday given a further 24 hours to act.

The JEC said the law prohibited the display of ideological and partisan symbols in public buildings prior to elections and, if Torra refused to act on this occasion, it could see the Catalan Government accused of disobedience.

The president had claimed the displays were linked to the indyref trial and were neither a pro-indy nor political symbol, so did not have to be removed.