A review of the document against the government's disinformation campaign

The Venice Commission draft on the amnesty in Spain and what it really says

Yesterday, Pedro Sánchez's government carried out a disinformation maneuver very similar to what the Putin regime does in Russia.

Statement of the General Council of the Judiciary of Spain against the amnesty: it is “a serious violation of fundamental rights”
More than 1,300 judges in Spain denounce that Sánchez's amnesty means “blowing up the rule of law”

The government leaks the document and breaks the trust of the Commission

In the afternoon, breaking the trust of the Venice Commission, a consultative body of the Council of Europe that oversees constitutional law, the Spanish leftist government leaked to the media a draft of that Commission on the amnesty it intends to approve for the crimes committed by Sánchez's parliamentary allies in the coup separatism of 2017 in Catalonia, including crimes of terrorism and political corruption. This leak is a very serious and unprecedented event and it demonstrates, once again, that for Sánchez and his ministers anything goes when it comes to achieving his goals.

The government has lied about the content of the draft

This anything goes also includes the lie: the government not only leaked a simple draft, which is not a definitive document (since the Commission has not voted or published a definitive document on the aforementioned amnesty) , but also distorted its content, stating that it endorses the amnesty, which is flatly false. Not only are we facing a new lie of the many that this government has been propagating, but also the document in question is very critical of the amnesty that Sánchez intends to approve.

It should be noted that this act of disinformation, for which the government should be taken to court, has had many media outlets as accomplices, who have spread the government's hoax without verifying it, in yet another example of the degradation of a large part of the journalistic profession in Spain. Many of these media have spoken about this document without making it available to their audience, abusing the trust of their readers, as is their habit.

The link to the draft and what it really says

You can either: the draft in question can be read in full here (PDF)< /a>. The document is in English and consists of 26 pages. Points 9 and 10 of the document state the following:

9. The Venice Commission will carry out its legal analysis in the light of European and international standards, as well as comparative material. It will not intervene in the political discussion. In particular, it will not comment on the desirability of the amnesty, nor on its suitability to achieve its stated aim, as these are political decisions for the Spanish Government and Parliament to take.

10. Furthermore, the Venice Commission is not competent to comment on the constitutionality of the amnesty bill, which is a matter for the Spanish Constitutional Tribunal ultimately to decide, and for the Spanish constitutional experts to debate. In addition, in line with its established practice, the Venice Commission will not assess the compatibility of the amnesty bill with European Union law, which could be the subject of a judgment by the European Court of Justice.

The document indicates that the Spanish Constitution does not contemplate amnesty

Having read these points, it is worth asking: then, why does the Venice Commission prepare a report on the amnesty? After reviewing the facts (from the Catalan Statute of 1979 to the presentation of the project from amnesty, to the 2017 separatist coup in Catalonia), the authors of the draft make a comparative analysis with the legislation of 54 other countries (points 34 et seq. of the document). After establishing a distinction between amnesty and pardon and pointing out the countries whose constitutions explicitly contemplate amnesty, point 40 of the draft contradicts the theses of the Sánchez government by stating the following:

"Several constitutions provide for pardon but not for amnesty: Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, Israel, Liechtenstein, Malta, Norway, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden. In Spain, general pardons (indultos generales) are prohibited by the Constitution."

It points out that to approve the amnesty "a constitutional amendment" would be necessary

After continuing with comparative law, the document goes on to analyze the requirements of amnesties from the point of view of the Rule of Law (point 53 et seq.), stating (point 54): "The Venice Commission is of the view that the following benchmarks of its Rule of Law Checklist are pertinent in respect of amnesty." Those five points are:

  • Legality, Supremacy of the law.
  • Respect for international law, in particular, human rights law, including binding decisions of international courts.
  • Legal certainty, Foreseeability of the laws.
  • Legality, Law-making procedures: is the process of enacting law transparent, accountable, inclusive, and democratic?
  • Equality in law: are there individuals or groups with special legal privileges?

Examining these points, the draft states the following in point 87: "the Commission is of the view that the vivid controversy that this matter has sparked suggests that it would be preferable, when the time is ripe, to regulate this matter explicitly by way of a constitutional amendment."

The other criticisms of the amnesty draft

On the other hand, the draft criticizes that "the scope of application of the amnesty as defined in Article 1.1 of the amnesty bill is very broad and rather undetermined. It defines the acts through their intention." The draft also criticizes the "vagueness" of the text of the amnesty project and the fact that its application applies to "a rather lengthy period of time" (from 2012 to 2023). Point 89 of the document states:

"The Commission recommends defining the material and temporal scope of the application of the amnesty in a more precise way, so as to make the effects of the law more foreseeable. As amnesty affects the value of res iudicata, it must adhere to legal certainty, as otherwise it would undermine the public confidence in the observance and respect of the constitution and the law. The Commission stresses that the law will have to be interpreted and applied by the judges in each case to determine whether each case is eligible for the amnesty. The lack of clarity and determinacy of its scope of application carries the risk that a very large number of cases and controversies will arise about the correct application of the law. This in turns risks shifting the conflicts from the political to the judicial level. This result would not be coherent with the purpose of the amnesty as such."

Point 90 of the document adds more criticism of the amnesty:

As concerns equality in law, the Commission finds that if the link between “the consultations held in Catalonia on 9 November 2014 and 1 October 2017, their preparation or their consequences“ and the acts covered by the amnesty is not strong enough, amnesty could also cover many citizens who have committed ordinary crimes that have little or nothing to do with the social tensions that led to the amnesty law; this would make the justification for the special privileges questionable and would infringe the principle of equality in respect of those who have committed the same ordinary crimes for other reasons or during different periods, and do not benefit from the decriminalisation brought about by the amnesty. The Commission therefore reiterates its recommendation to define in a more restrictive and precise manner the scope of application of the amnesty. The Commission recalls that an amnesty is an impersonal measure applying to all persons or to a class of persons, and the criteria for its application should not be designed to cover specific individuals."

This last phrase is a clear allusion to Carles Puigdemont, who demands from the government an amnesty a la carte that covers all his problems with Justice, including his prosecution for terrorism crimes.

Point 93 of the document adds more criticism of the amnesty in relation to the crimes of embezzlement and corruption and its adjustment with the rule of law:

As explained above, in the Commission’s view there needs to be consistency in the determination of the acts covered by amnesty, which should be intrinsically linked, to avoid arbitrariness. Only a closer causal link between “the consultations held in Catalonia on 9 November 2014 and 1 October 2017, their preparation or their consequences” and certain acts of embezzlement and corruption could justify the application of amnesty to the latter. A broader, less precise definition of these acts would be difficult to reconcile with the principle of equality in law.

Regarding the claim that parliamentary committees be organized to examine the work of judges, in which parties that have violated the law and have wanted to leave the Constitution in Catalonia in suspension would participate, the draft states in point 108:

Under Article 122 of the Constitution of Spain, the body competent to address disciplinary issues of judges is the General Council of the Judiciary. Requiring judges to report to a political body, in public, about the manner in which they dealt with a specific case represents a political interference in the administration of justice. Furthermore, it creates a chilling effect on other judges, particularly those who are currently or will in the future hear pending cases or those linked to causes of exclusion from the application of the amnesty bill.

The recommendations made by the authors of the draft

In point 114, the draft makes several recommendations in relation to the amnesty project:

- To define the material and temporal scope of the application of the amnesty in a more precise way, so as to make the effects of the law more foreseeable;
- To ensure that a closer causal link is established between “the consultations held in Catalonia on 9 November 2014 and 1 October 2017, their preparation or their consequences” and the acts of embezzlement and corruption;
- To remove the criterion of the stage of the procedure for the exclusion of crimes of terrorism.

Point 116 adds another recommendation:

- that the committees of inquiry set up by the Congress of Deputies of Spain should not be mandated, nor seek to require that judges report to them, in particular on the merits of the cases which they have decided.

Finally, the draft also criticizes the rush to approve the amnesty in point 117:

Finally, the Venice Commission observes that the amnesty bill has been presented in the form of a legislative proposal, which is a procedure with limited consultation of the public, of the stakeholders and of other state institutions, and has followed an urgent procedure. Yet, the amnesty bill has stirred a deep and virulent division in the political class, in the institutions, in the judiciary, in the academia and in the society of Spain. The Commission encourages all the Spanish authorities to take the necessary time for meaningful dialogue in the spirit of loyal cooperation among state institutions as well as majority and opposition, in order to achieve social and political reconciliation, and to consider exploring restorative justice procedures.

A document that does not support the amnesty: the government has lied

Personally, I think that the draft is undemanding of the government (at this point, I don't expect much from the European institutions), but this text does not endorse the amnesty in any way and is not a definitive document . What we have seen in the last few hours is a disinformation campaign inappropriate for a democratic government, but which is already typical of the Spanish socialist government. Sánchez has settled on lies and deception as tools to justify his actions , something typical of an apprentice tyrant.

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