SPECULATION is mounting in Catalonia that Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez has moved on from considering “if” he should pardon the jailed independence leaders, to “how” to do it.

It comes after Spain’s biggest newspaper El Pais reported that Sanchez plans to approve the pardons in a cabinet meeting by the end of this month, and the Catalan News Agency (ACN) said officials at Spain’s justice ministry have started writing a report on the legalities of the measure.

The ultimate decision will be a politically-charged one and talks between government officials and members of Sanchez’s ruling Socialist party have been rumbling on for weeks.

Nine politicians and activists were jailed for between nine and 13 years for their part in the 2017 independence referendum and El Pais indicated Sanchez would approve their pardons no later than the beginning of July.

READ MORE: Spanish court resists pardons for Catalan leaders jailed in independence push

Some reports, however, suggested it would be in the prime minister’s best political interests – and to lessen a backlash in public opinion – to make his announcement during the August recess.

Spain’s Justice Minister, and expert on presidential pardons, Juan Carlos Campo, is reportedly leading a team drafting the legal arguments supporting the move.

The conservative People’s Party (PP) and far-right Vox have already said they would challenge the pardons in court, with colleagues of Sanchez worried the courts could overturn them and dal a major blow to his government.

In a recently-released non-binding report, the Supreme Court – which tried the pro-independence leaders – rejected pardoning them.

El Pais also said the pardons would be “partial” and “reversible”, which would have the effect of reducing the years to which they were sentenced to the point where they need not spend further time in prison – but this could be lifted were they to be convicted of a criminal offence.

General secretary of the PP, Teodoro García Egea, dismissed the move, saying: “Sánchez wants to pardon himself.”

Sanchez’s cabinet is also preparing to reform the criminal code to reduce jail time for the crime of sedition, which would give him a more solid legal footing to pardon the leaders.

Right-wing opposition parties have accused Sanchez of granting the pardons in exchange for crucial parliamentary support from pro-independence parties in parliament.