The Law Society of Upper Canada expresses concern about the conviction and 11-year ban from office of Judge Baltasar Garzón 

The Law Society of Upper Canada expresses concern that the criminal conviction and 11-year ban from judicial office of Judge Baltasar Garzón may have a negative impact on judicial independence in Spain. Criminally prosecuting a judge for issuing a decision is harmful to judicial independence and should only occur in the most serious of cases.

Judge Garzón was convicted of abuse of power on February 9, 2012 as a result of his involvement in a high-profile corruption case. Judge Garzón ordered that conversations between detainees and their lawyers be monitored as an exception to the rule protecting attorney-client privilege.

This is not the first time that Judge Garzón has been the subject of a criminal prosecution as a result of discharging his duties as a judge. Judge Garzón was recently acquitted of abuse of power for ordering an investigation of Franco-era human rights abuses.

The Law Society of Upper Canada takes no position on the correctness of the decision to convict Judge Garzón of abuse of power. However, it is essential to the preservation of judicial independence that judges issuing decisions should only be criminally prosecuted in the most extreme cases. Judges frequently have to rule on controversial matters and interpret the law in areas where there is legal uncertainty. Judges must be able to make controversial rulings within the scope of their authority, without fear of criminal sanctions.

The Law Society of Upper Canada is especially concerned that Judge Garzón was prosecuted by way of private prosecution, in proceedings that were opposed by the public prosecutor, and from which there is no right of appeal. As a result, the Law Society of Upper Canada urges the government of Spain to protect judicial independence by conducting a review of the criminal conviction and sentencing of Judge Garzón.

Therefore, the Law Society of Upper Canada calls on the Government of Spain to,

  1. ensure that the appropriate procedures are followed in order to conduct a review of the conviction and 11-year ban from office of Judge Garzón;
  2. take steps to ensure that judges are not subject to criminal prosecution as a result of issuing decisions, except in the most extreme cases;
  3. publicly recognize the importance and legitimacy of the work of judges and their contributions to the strengthening of democracy and the rule of law;
  4. ensure that all judges can carry out their peaceful and legitimate duties and activities without fear of removal from office; and 
  5. ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Spain.

The Law Society of Upper Canada is the governing body for more than 43,000 lawyers and 4,000 paralegals in the Province of Ontario, Canada.  The mandate of the Law Society is to govern the legal profession in the public interest by upholding the independence, integrity and honour of the legal profession for the purpose of advancing the cause of justice and the rule of law.

For more information, contact: Josée Bouchard, Equity Advisor, at 416-947-3984 or jbouchar@lsuc.on.ca