On the 9th February, 2012 the panel of seven judges of the Spanish Supreme Court found that Baltasar Garzón acted unlawfully in ordering prison wiretaps of detainees talking to their lawyers, commenting that “his actions these days are only found in totalitarian regimes”. Fifty-six years old Garzón was disbarred for eleven years. Almost 10,000 people came to the Madrid demonstration organised by the United Left Party (Izguierda Unida) in his support. Predictably, the world-wide Left finds nothing wrong in illegal wire-tapping by one of their comrades. Perhaps they also regret the dearth of totalitarian regimes.
A few days later a second case against Garzón, involving allegations of corruption relating to sponsorship deals obtained by New York University for conferences he helped run while on sabbatical there, was dismissed. Supreme court judge Manuel Marchena said that, “Garzón had not abused his powers by failing to rule himself out of dealing with a case involving one of the sponsors, the Santander bank. Garzón had been wrong to accept jurisdiction in the case, but he had not made any unjust decisions as a result.” Probably not; but “not only must justice be done, it must also be seen to be done”. I do not know whether Spanish judges are aware of this English saying, which, regrettably, even in common law jurisdictions is more often quoted than observed. However, a cynic could speculate that the judges did not wish to establish a possibly inconvenient precedent.
The third case, concerning Garzón’s investigation of Franco’s civil war 1936-1939 crimes despite the amnesty of 1977 is still pending. Franco died in 1975.
Garzón applied the principle of universal jurisdiction, i.e. the idea that some crimes are so heinous they can be prosecuted anywhere in the world. As the later day Torquemada, he believed that he can investigate and prosecute anybody not of his faith anywhere. He was interested in high profile, mostly right wing crimes, though at some stage he also expressed interest to investigate then so fashionable Tibet. But just as the Castro brothers, the Chinese politburo had nothing ever to fear from him.