Garzón and the Batman theory of justice

The relative awfulness of, and defining differences between, English and Spanish justice.

Despite fears that silence might lead a vengeful establishment to demolish their houses, no one in the pub last night was prepared to stroll out on a limb and sing the praises of Spanish justice. There was however was support for alternative propositions. These constitute a continuum which commences with the notion that in terms of fairness the Spanish and English systems are closely-related shades of grey, with a Basque-whacking Egunkaria for every Paddy-whacking Birmingham Six. From there we slide, increasingly burdened by keywords like “slowness”, “partiality”, and “bureaucracy”, into the world of the first victim of the Spanish courts to make it big in English popular culture: Thomas Kyd‘s Armada-era Hieronymo, a magistrate who in The Spanish tragedy fails to obtain justice for the murder of his son and

slowly … retreats from the corrupt daylight world of the Spanish court into introspection and darkness, a questioning of the meaning of existence, madness and at last into a frenzy of retributive killing crowned by his own suicide.

If magistrate Baltasar Garzón is indeed struck off, it’s difficult to imagine him embracing introspection and darkness–although if he really cares deeply about the past he could always shut himself up in a room with his ghost-writer and churn out a historical bestseller. I’m not sure if anyone agreed with me, but it seemed to me that if there’s anything that differentiates Spanish from British justice, it may be the popular faith in superhuman vigilantes who will set the law aside and bring new order and put mankind in its place–manifestly Garzón’s project (as well, of course, as that of his anti-Messiah in 1936).

I actually sympathise with Garzón’s apparent belief (like that of George Bush re Iraq) that human rights violators should be pursued wherever they may be and whenever they may have committed their crimes. However I’m not particularly comfortable with either hard-line natural or positivist approaches to the law, so while I think Bush probably had sufficient law on his side and meaningful prospects of getting the bastards which were unavailable to Iraq’s residents, Garzón in order to inconvenience some of the dead appears to have acted illegally in a democracy equipped with the means to correct its ills. And that seems to me wrong, and injurious to democracy itself.

Perhaps the most popular argument as to why anti-constitutional behaviour should not be challenged here is that the challenge came initially from the far right. The clamour to deny their constitutional rights strikes me as every bit as damaging as the several unjustified attempts by judge Juan del Olmo to restrict press freedom on several other fringes of the anti-establishment. If the Falange is to be silenced for human rights abuses committed by an organisation with the same name in the 1930s, what of the PSOE or the (heirs of the) PCE?

In similar vein, the myth is propagated that this is a left-right conflict. So, for example, retired-prosecutor Carlos Jiménez Villarejo has accused Luciano Varela, the judge responsible for handling the Garzón case, of being a member of the Franquista elite. In fact, Varela entered the profession in the dying days of the regime, was one of the founders of the “progressive” Judges for Democracy, and is credited with conclusively upsetting the post-dictatorship applecart in Galicia. Villarejo meanwhile was appointed in 1962 and served the regime without apparent philosophical problems, achieved notoriety after the transition for his attempts to jail Jordi Pujol for embezzlement in the Banca Catalana scandal, and was subsequently an election candidate on one of the post-communist lists. Some of the sand has shifted too much to draw simple good/bad lines, and, as LiSC suggests, some of this sounds more personal than political.

Much of the international attention for the case strikes me as adopting a patronising, African attitude to Spain, echoing George Orwell’s taking a Catalan safari to hunt priests and capitalists and then going back home and relying on Lady Astor to fix him up with a Church of England funeral. Faced with a crisis, would Guardian writers or Tom the Pox really like to tear up the British constitution and have a latter-day David Blunkett or Michael Howard set things to rights?

When I write “equipped with the means to correct its ills” I’m hinting at what David Maeztu as usual expresses so well:

those who should be in the dock for malfeasance are the [relevant] judges, prosecutors and public officials who, knowing of dead in ditches, have done nothing to identify the bodies, to ascertain the cause of death and above all, return them to the families who tragically lost them. That’s the great shame of this country.

The “Batman” in this post’s title is of course a reference to The dark knight, where the treatment of crime and extra-judicial punishment is no longer simply that of the classic, straightforward Chiroptera-vigilante flick, where Gotham is no longer a weak, cowed population in need of a messianic saviour. That seems to me to a smart path for Spain to follow.

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Last updated 13/04/2010

This post pre-dates my organ-grinding days, and may be imported from elsewhere.

Baltasar Garzón (2): Baltasar Garzón Real is a Spanish jurist.

Civil War (9): A civil war is an armed conflict within a nation.

Egunkaria (1): Egunkaria for thirteen years was the only fully Basque language newspaper in circulation until it was closed down on 20 February 2003 by the Spanish authorities due to allegations of an illegal association with ETA, the armed Basque separatist group.

El Jueves (1): El Jueves is a Spanish weekly satirical magazine based in Barcelona. Throughout most of its life, its masthead has been featuring the tagline "La revista que sale los miércoles".

England (39):

English literature (60):

Falange (25): %5B%5BWikipedia%3ARedirects+for+discussion%5D%5D+debate+closed+as+delete

Francisco Franco (13): Francisco Franco Bahamonde was a Spanish general who ruled over Spain as a military dictator from 1939, after the Nationalist victory in the Spanish Civil War, until his death in 1975.

Galicia (72):

George Orwell (21): Eric Arthur Blair, better known by his pen name George Orwell, was an English novelist, essayist, journalist and critic, whose work is marked by lucid prose, awareness of social injustice, opposition to totalitarianism, and outspoken support of democratic socialism.Orwell wrote literary criticism, poetry, fiction and polemical journalism.

George W. Bush (44):

Interpretivism (1):

Iraq (1): Iraq or ; Arabic: العراق‎ al-'Irāq; Kurdish: عێراق‎ Eraq), officially known as the Republic of Iraq, is a country in Western Asia, bordered by Turkey to the north, Iran to the east, Kuwait to the southeast, Saudi Arabia to the south, Jordan to the southwest and Syria to the west.

Iraq War (41): The Iraq War was a protracted armed conflict that began in 2003 with the invasion of Iraq by a United States-led coalition that overthrew the government of Saddam Hussein.

Jordi Pujol i Soley (32):

Juan del Olmo (1): Juan del Olmo is a Spanish judge in the 2004 Madrid train bombings case.

Judicial positivism (1):

Justice (2):

Kaleboel (4307):

Manos Limpias (1): Manos Limpias is a trade union registered in Spain allegedly representing employees of the Spanish public services.

Natural justice (1):

Politics of Spain (162):

Spain (1881):

Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (60): The Spanish Socialist Workers' Party; PSOE [peˈsoe]) is a social-democratic political party in Spain.


  1. A cynic might wonder whether Pilar Bardem is making such a fuss about this because she’d prefer not to talk about the PSOE’s having destroyed the Spanish economy.

  2. For me the difference is that while Garzon’s investigation might be a stretch, and may not have even been legal (depending on how the supreme court would resolve the obvious conflict between the amnesty law and international treaties on universal justice that Spain has signed), that’s not what he’s accused of.

    He’s accused of deliberately misrepresenting the truth and maliciously bringing a case forward that he knew was illegal.

    It’s pretty obvious that the hope is to get rid of Garzon quickly, which would severely delay the Gurtel case and probably push most of the charges beyond the statute of limitations.

  3. Varela’s case is a pretty bizarre hatchet job. It’s pretty clear that it would never result in an actual conviction, since Varela never cites any evidence that Garzon knew what he was doing was wrong.

    But come on… Garzon cracks one of the largest corruption cases in the history of Spain, pretty much immediately after which three separate cases are filed for his removal.

    When the PP starts arguing that we should respect and not politicize the justice system, you know there’s something bad going on.

  4. Falange & al/PP is a bit like BNP/Tories, so conspiracy theories lack a motive. Unless Gurtel was actually going to lead to the discovery of far greater corruption in the PSOE. But then you have to explain why the Leninist wing of the PSOE wants Garzón to continue.

  5. Apparently we’ll hear shortly whether Varela can make his case stick. Varela strikes me as full of himself and slightly bonkers, but Garzón’s autobio is the craziest piece of self-deceiving vanity toss I’ve ever seen, for all his great achievements earlier in his career. It would be offensive to compare it with Mein Kampf, but its appalling treatment of women and the rest of us sub-humans suggests he won’t be on Oprah’s “I was chosen by God” Book Club any time soon.

    Returning to my opening theme, mad egoist judges are of course to be found a-plenty on The Island.

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