The declaration of a state of alarm, which implied an almost total halt in non-urgent judicial activity, has weighed down a situation, that of the Spanish courts, which was already bordering on collapse in some jurisdictions. According to the annual report of the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ) that the body has delivered to the King and sent to Congress, the suspension of the procedural deadlines in force between March 14 and June 5 has made 2020 the year with fewer cases entered in the courts since at least 1995.
But this drop in new issues has not served to alleviate the situation because the resolution of cases has also been affected by the suspension of hearings and the delays of the first months of the pandemic. The final balance, according to the data collected in the report, is a more congested justice with a higher rate of pendency (the cases pending in the courts).
These are some of the key sections that the report collects.
12% fewer cases entered. The report prepared by the governing body of the judges warns that the activity during 2020 has been “greatly impacted” by the state of alarm. Last year 5,526,754 cases entered the Spanish courts, 12% less than in 2019. It is the most important reduction since 1995, with the exception of the fall in income observed in 2016 due to various legal reforms in the criminal jurisdiction that They implied a drop of 42% in the entry of business.
The reduction has been concentrated in the period of suspension of the procedural deadlines: end of the first quarter and the entire second quarter, with year-on-year reductions of 12.8% and 32.9% respectively. The drop in income affected all jurisdictions, although it was higher in administrative litigation (22.1%) followed by criminal (13.3%), social (7.5%) and civil (7.3%).
The 12% decrease in the number of filed cases caused, according to the report, a sharp drop in the litigation rate, which went from 133.5 cases per 1,000 inhabitants in 2019 to 116.5 in 2020. By Communities, litigation was higher than the national one in the Canary Islands (154), Andalusia (128), Murcia (121), Madrid (120); Asturias, Balearic Islands, Cantabria and Valencian Community (118). On the contrary, the lowest rate of lawsuits was registered in La Rioja (81), the Basque Country (85), Navarra (88) and Extremadura (90).
Fewer cases resolved and more pending issues. Although fewer cases have entered the courts than in other years, the final balance could not take advantage of this drop because the number of cases resolved also suffered a significant reduction, of 14.1% compared to 2019, which means that at the end of the year register a sharp rise in pending cases. As of December 31, 2020, the courts had 3,156,877 pending cases, 11.3% more than at the end of 2019. The situation is generalized and only Aragón managed to resolve as many cases as they enter. The lowest resolution rate was in Madrid, followed by Murcia, the Canary Islands, Castilla la Mancha and the Basque Country, according to the data collected in the report
As with revenue, the year-on-year reductions in resolved cases were concentrated in the period of suspension of the procedural deadlines, with reductions of 12.2% in the first quarter and 45.7% in the second. The third and fourth quarters already saw year-on-year increases of 4.8% and 0.3% respectively.
The report of the Board stands out as significant indicators to compare the situation in different periods and territories, the resolution rates (quotient between the number of cases resolved and those admitted); the pending rate (quotient between pending matters at the end of the period and those resolved in it); and as a global indicator of the resolution capacity with respect to the workload, the congestion rate (quotient between the sum of those pending resolution at the beginning of the period, and those admitted resolved in that time).
In 2020, while the resolution rate fell by 2.4%, the pending rate increased by 29.6% and the congestion rate by 9.4%. From this situation, the Council’s report warns, “a significant deterioration in the situation of all jurisdictions can be inferred.” By communities, the most congested courts are those of Castilla-La Mancha, followed by Murcia, Catalonia and the Balearic Islands. The least, those of Navarra, Aragon and Asturias.
Lack of courts and judges. The annual report collects the needs of new places and courts demanded by the regional courts. According to this estimate, 129 new positions for magistrates and 380 courts would be needed. The one that asks the most is Madrid (32 positions for magistrates and 145 new courts, more than a third of the total claimed), a long way from the following – Andalusia (15 seats and 48 courts) and the Valencian Community (26 and 44) -. Only two higher courts, those of the Balearic Islands and Asturias, do not demand an increase in places, although they do demand an increase in courts (15 Balearic Islands and three Asturias).
In all the communities, the greatest deficiencies are in the courts of First Instance (115 new courts are missing, according to the requests made by the higher courts) and in the Social (62) and Mercantile (58) courts, which are the ones with the greatest saturation show in the annual statistics of the Council. The Juvenile and Family courts are the only ones that do not require increases, according to the Supreme Court, which also demand 14 new courts for Gender Violence and 13 for Contentious-Administrative.
Discretionary appointments. Beyond the activity of the judicial bodies, the annual report of the Council also includes the work carried out by the governing body of the judges itself, including discretionary appointments, a matter that confronted the CGPJ with the Government due to the reluctance of the Executive to that the current members, whose mandate expired in December 2018, make these appointments. The conflict ended with the approval, last March, of a legal reform that vetoes these appointments when the Council is in office.
But during 2020, to which the report presented now corresponds, the Council made a total of 33 discretionary appointments, including three presidencies of the Supreme Court chamber (Contentious, Social and Military) and three of magistrates (all for the Chamber of the Penal). The rest of the appointments were for the National Court (president of the Social Chamber), two presidencies of the TSJ (Balearic Islands and Cantabria), seven presidencies of the TSJ chamber and two presidencies of the Provincial Courts (Ourense and Cáceres).
Pending renovation. Although the Board’s yearbook does not dedicate a specific section to its interim situation, the document does contain several express references to it, both in the presentation and in the chapter dedicated to the activity of the president, Carlos Lesmes. The Report recalls that the body had to be renewed in December 2018, but it was not done “for reasons completely beyond the responsibility of the institution.” The Council, remember, has complied with the procedures that corresponded to it (start the renewal process in August 2018) and has sent four reminders to the Courts (three in 2019 and one in 2020). The memory also recalls the calls made by Lesmes to unblock the renewal during the opening acts of the 2019 and 2020 judicial year.