Conflict between Spanish government and judiciary

Government challenges the right of judges to strike and accuses them of putting pressure on parliament

Yesterday, Mariano Fernández Bermejo, the Spanish Minister for Justice attacked a planned strike by judges in June this year. The strike which is planned to take place on 26th June this year has been called by four professional associations belonging to the judiciary. The Spanish president José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, also criticised the decision of the associations for deciding to organize the first ever strike by the judiciary and said that the 2009 budget for the judiciary would not be revised and that salaries would not be raised by more than 5%.

The Minister for Justice attributed the decision to call a strike by the four associations as a threat and a way of putting pressure on parliament so that the contents of any reforms proposed by the government would ‘be what judges want’. In an interview with a major Spanish news channel he also suggested that the action was related to the case of Mari Luz and the judge Rafael Tirado.

Federico Trillo speaking on behalf of the main opposition PP party said that while his party understood the serious situation that the lack of adequate resources had placed the judiciary in organizing a strike was not a suitable measure.

Bermejo, said that the question is not whether a Judge had the right to strike but in his opinion the key was that someone with power of the state could not be allowed the luxury of striking because it was a betrayal of the mandate placed upon them by the citizens of that country.

He also criticised the associations for asking for a new judicial office to be created when parliament had already sent its proposals on reforms to the judiciary to Congress.

In a more measured tone José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero said that the government would talk to the judiciary and that he preferred not to think that the threat to strike was related to the case of Mari Luz.

However, he also remained firm on plans to raise the salary of judges by 5% given that in his opinion many of the demands of the judges were related to their salaries.

Zapatero also said that it was not the problems of the judiciary that worried him but the problems of citizens in relation to the judiciary which was why the government had doubled investment to modernize the infrastructure of the department of justice and had significantly increased the number of judges and public prosecutors. Specifically in 2008 5000 new posts were incorporated into the department of Justice with the creation of 684 new posts for judges and 484 posts for public prosecutors.

A spokesperson for the largest and most conservative association for the judiciary – the Asociación Profesional de la Magistratura (APM) – accused Bermejo of ‘corrupting the debate’ over the demands of the judiciary and of ‘confusing public opinion’.

In addition a spokesperson for another of the associations said that judges were not protesting at the proposed increase of 5% in their salaries but that their salaries would be subject to review every five years.

With respect to the legality of the strike Gabriela Bravo, said that the decision of judges to call a strike for June this year and the announcement of a protest on 18th February was sensible because six months was sufficient time to make the work of the Justice department and the government ‘visible’.