Spain: European Court ruling in Catalonia referendum human rights dispute

Fines imposed on electoral board members by Spain’s Constitutional Court after the suspension of the Catalonia referendum did not breach human rights law.

In its decision in the case of Aumatell i Arnau v. Spain (application no. 70219/17) the European Court of Human Rights has unanimously declared the application inadmissible.

The decision is final.

The applicant, Ms Montserrat Aumatell i Arnau, is a Spanish national who was born in 1975 and lives in Valls.

On 6 September 2017 the Parliament of Catalonia enacted the Law “on the self-determination referendum” providing, in particular, for the appointment of the members of the Central Electoral Bureau of Catalonia responsible for organising the vote.

The Principal State Prosecutor, representing the Spanish Government, declared the law unconstitutional and requested its provisional suspension.

In a decision of 7 September 2017 the Constitutional Court declared the law inapplicable and the organisation of the referendum unlawful. On 8 September 2016, ignoring the order issued by the Constitutional Court, the Central Electoral Bureau appointed the members of the electoral boards.

Aumatell i Arnau was appointed as a member of the Tarragona electoral board. In a decision of 13 September 2017, the Constitutional Court reminded the members of the electoral boards that the Law “on the self-determination referendum” had been suspended.

On 20 September 2017, noting the failure to implement its decisions, the Constitutional Court imposed a coercive day-fine of a minimum of 6,000 euros (EUR) on all members of the electoral boards.

On 22 September 2017, Aumatell i Arnau was informed of that decision via the Official Gazette. She resigned from her post on the same day. In a decision of 14 November 2017 the Constitutional Court lifted the day-fines imposed on the members of the electoral boards in view of all the resignations.

In its ruling, the European court first found that the failure to serve notice of the Constitutional Court’s decision personally on Aumatell i Arnau had not prevented her from having knowledge of it or from making submissions to that court.

The fine imposed on Aumatell i Arnau was itself prescribed by law. Moreover, she had been notified in person of the Constitutional Court’s decisions concerning the suspension of the referendum.

As a result, she had been aware that her conduct could result in fines and criminal proceedings.







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