THE EFFECTS OF THE ECONOMIC CRISIS ON THE SPANISH JUDICIAL SYSTEM1
The current economic crisis has affected all aspects of Spanish society, including Justice. The quarterly collection of statistical data on court performance by the Spanish Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ) shows that the most immediate consequence of the crisis has been a sustained increase in the number of incoming court cases (9,048,852 in 2009 up by 5,7% from 2008, which already saw an increase of 6,7% from 2007). The court system has been most affected in the civil/commercial and labour areas, while criminal justice remained more stable. Incoming civil cases increased by 18,5% in 2009, on top of an 17,8% increase in 2008. Similarly, labour justice also suffered increases for 2 consecutive years. The impact was specially marked in 1st Instance Social Courts, where incoming cases increased by 17,4% in 2009 and 32% in 2008. For the period 2008-2009, there has therefore been a 15,23% and 13,4% increase in the workload of civil and labour magistrates respectively.
Looking at specific types of cases, proceedings for the enforcement of mortgage obligations more than doubled in 2008 and further increased by 59% in 2009, reaching 93.319. The number of bankruptcy proceedings grew exponentially from 1,589 cases in 2007, to 4,813 in 2008 and 7,768 in 2009, which finally saw a certain slowdown. Dismissal proceedings increased by 55,4% in 2008 and by 31,5% in 2009.
Justice professionals have stood up to the crisis. In 2009 magistrates rendered 1,623,122 judgments, (6,7% more than in 2008, of which 17,2% more in civil matters and 15,3% more in labour matters), whilst the rate of rulings upheld in appeal remained very high (94% in all areas). However, this has not been enough to avoid a deterioration in the civil and labour courts, with higher backlogs and lower clearance rates. Nor has the justice system been spared from “social unrest” with a prolonged 4 month strike of court staff in 2008 and 2 days of unprecedented judicial strike supported by 35,7% and 23,57% of magistrates in 2009.
As from the end of 2009, the CGPJ, the Ministry of Justice and the Autonomous Communities have made joint efforts to adopt reinforcement measures in the most affected areas, including the appointment of support judges and the setting-up of new, specialized first instance courts. Preliminary data for 2010 seem to show a certain improvement, with a general stabilization of incoming cases (except civil and enforcement cases) and important reductions in dismissal and bankruptcy proceedings.
However it seems that wider structural reform will still be necessary. In this sense, notwithstanding a salary cut of up 10% for civil servants (including judges and prosecutors) in mid-2010, the Ministry has up to now maintained investments in judicial recruitment, infrastructure and IT in order to ensure implementation of the 2009-2012 Strategic Plan for the modernization of the justice administration. This includes the setting up of the new “judicial office”. Hopefully, the positive results of these investments will be reflected in the 2012 CEPEJ report.
Senior Public Prosecutor
Spanish member of CEPEJ
1 The statistical information referred to in this article can be found in the Annual Reports 2008/2009 of the Spanish Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ), as well as in the Statistical Bulletins “Justice Data” N°15,17,18, and 22 published in the CGPJ site: www.poderjudicial.es