The sentence announced this Wednesday by the Constitutional Court, which overthrows part of the decree of state of alarm that in 2020 confined millions of Spaniards in their homes during the first stage of the coronavirus pandemic, opens an unexpected scenario for the Government of Pedro Sánchez : the return of thousands of fines imposed on citizens for bypassing restrictions. The resolution of the high court, which will be published in its entirety in the coming days, will leave these sanctions without legal coverage on the understanding that they were ordered under the umbrella of a rule that is finally annulled, according to high court sources.
In the absence of knowing the ins and outs of the ruling and the practical scope of its details, those same sources point out that the idea is that all the fines issued that affect the right of movement, which were suspended by a means now considered unconstitutional, decline. In this way, those who have not yet paid them, would not have to finally do so. And those who have already paid them, would have to claim to get the money back. Of course, the text of the magistrates will have to define what happens, for example, with those cases that have already been analyzed in the courts and a final judgment has been issued.
The data handled by the Ministry of the Interior is that, between the first state of alarm that lasted from March 14 to June 21, 2020, the different police officers proposed more than 1.14 million fines. In many cases, to apply the restrictions, the agents applied article 36.6 of the Citizen Security Law, popularly known as the gag law, which provides for the punishment of disobedience to the Security Forces for serious misconduct – from 601 to 30,000 euros. The enormous volume of sanctions caused at first the collapse of the Government delegations in the different communities, in charge of processing each file (with the exception of Catalonia and the Basque Country, where these powers are transferred).
This bottleneck has been progressively resolved, although the latest available data showed that there was still a long way to go. As of March 24 of this year, only 161,702 of the files opened by the first state of alarm had been finalized, as detailed by the Government in a parliamentary response to Deputy Jon Iñarritu (EH Bildu) and that does not include the fines from the Basque Country and Catalonia. That figure barely represents 16.8% of all the sanctions proposed in the communities included in the response of the Socialist Executive.
After knowing the Constitutional ruling, La Moncloa did not take long to react. He showed his surprise and discomfort over a ruling that he will study thoroughly to see what room for maneuver it leaves him, according to government sources. The Minister of Justice, Pilar Llop, appeared in the afternoon in a format that did not allow questions from journalists: “At that time, the Government’s duty was to take immediate, urgent and proportionate measures to contain the spread of an unknown virus and defend the lives of millions of compatriots. The confinement decreed in the state of alarm and the exemplary behavior of the Spaniards allowed us to stop the virus, “he said, without offering more details of the new scenario that is opening.
The Government delegations in the different autonomous communities, in charge of processing the sanctions, opted this Wednesday for the utmost caution. According to sources from several of them consulted by EL PAÍS, these organizations also want to first know the exact content of the high court’s ruling – that is, how the annulment of the fines is reflected in the magistrates’ resolution – and, in addition, they will wait to receive “directions” from the central Executive to know how to act.
The ruling puts several million euros in check. For example, according to data from the Valencian Community, the Administration has already collected 14.1 million euros in its three provinces for violations of the Citizen Security law during the first state of alarm. Of that amount, 8.3 million are penalties paid through advance payment.
The Government of the Basque Country, which has transferred the powers to process sanctioning files, also showed a similar attitude of prudence on Wednesday. According to sources from the Executive of Iñigo Urkullu (PNV), the sentence handed down by the Constitutional Court leaves up to 31,000 fines imposed between March and June of last year in the air.
With information from Maria Fabra, Mikel Ormazabal, Silvia R. Pontevedra, Lucia Bohorquez, Elisa tasca Y Juan Navarro.