Key facts of the case:
This sentence is the response to Cassation No. 10231/2017 presented by seven Columbian citizens who were members of a drug trafficking criminal group- before the Spanish High Court ruling (Chamber 8) of 13 February 2013 for crimes against public health, belonging to a criminal organisation, and public document fraud. Specifically, the defendants constituted a coordinated and dedicated operation to introduce a narcotic substance, cocaine, acquiring it from unknown suppliers in Colombia, for transport and final distribution in the area of L'Hospitalet de Llobregat in the autonomous community of Catalunya. One of the defendants appealed against the decision taken by the Spanish High Court on the grounds of the right to “a second criminal hearing” (“doble instancia penal”) within the appeal system for serious crimes, which was introduced into Spanish law in 2015 -in particular in Article 847 (1) b of the Criminal Procedure Law- as a result of the the opinion of 20 July 2000 of the Human Rights Committee on Case No. 701/1996. The right to “a second criminal hearing” offers the chance of a judicial remedy on the ruling delivered by the first judicial instance that ruled on the case. From that moment, judgments handed down at first instance by the Provincial High Courts may first be appealed against in the High Court of Justice and then in cassation. Finally, the Supreme Court referred to Article 49 (1) of the Charter when dismissing the allegations made by the defendant, stating that the current “doble instancia penal” is in full accordance with national and international law.
Key legal question raised by the Court:
The key legal question raised by the Court is that the possible retroactivity of the regulation introduced by Law 41/2015, amending the Criminal Procedure Law on streamline criminal justice and the engagement of the procedural safeguards, which introduced the right to “a second criminal hearing” into Article 847 (1) b of the Criminal Procedure Law. Thus, the Supreme Court stated that both
Article 9 (3) of the Spanish Constitution, or Article 49 (1) of the Charter only operate with respect to substantive rules and do not cover procedural rules. In this sense, according to the Court, the defendant´s legal defence sought to appeal against the decision of the Regional Court of Barcelona to the Regional Court of Catalonia, as the next judicial remedy prior to the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court. However, the legal basis for this prevents the Supreme Court from modifying all case laws prior to the entry into force of the law. Articles 9 (3) of the Spainish Constitution –containing the right to legal safeguards, and Article 49 (1) of the Charter, have been interpreted as if they were only applicable to substantive decisions, not procedural ones. It is not clear however how the retroactivity of the law could be beneficial to the defendant and, if, in the end, it is, it may be legally harmful to the other defendants who are also part of the same procedure. In any case, the above mentioned legal reasoning is in full accordance, as the Tribunal mentions, with ECHR and UNHRC doctrine.
 Spain, Ministry of the Presidency, Parliament Relations and Equality, (Ministerio de la Presidencia, Relaciones con la Cortes e Igualdad) (2015), Ley 41/2015, de 5 de octubre, de modificación de la Ley de Enjuiciamiento Criminal para la agilización de la justicia penal y el fortalecimiento de las garantías procesales (Law 41/2015, amending the Criminal Procedure Law on streamline criminal justice and the engagement of the procedural safeguards), Press release, 6 October 2018, available at: https://www.boe.es/buscar/doc.php?id=BOE-A-2015-10726
Outcome of the case:
The Supreme Court dismisses all appeals brought by each of the memberos of the drug trafficking criminal group against the Decision of the Spanish High Court ruling (Chamber 8) of 13 February 2013 and the defendants are also ordered to pay the legal costs.
"Article 9.3 EC prohibits the retroactivity of unfavourable or restrictive sanctioning regarding the provision of rights, but does not impose the retroactivity of favourable ones, which, however, could find some support in the law of the European Union (Article 49.1 Charte of Fundamental Rights of the European Union). What is decisive for rejecting the possible retroactivity of this new regulation is that we are not faced with a substantive provision, but rather a procedural one; and, furthermore, one which is not unequivocally beneficial. It will be so only for one (or other) of the parties to the process: whichever party has had its claims dismissed. For the other, it will be unfavourable. Article 2.2 of the Criminal Code, and also Article 9.3 of the Spanish Constitution, and Article 49.1 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union function with respect to substantive rules; they do not cover procedural rules. The introduction of a new appeal is not in principle, nor from an abstract point of view, favourable to the defendant. Procedural equality of arms prevents us from understanding that the same decision may only be challenged by one party (convicted), but not by the others (accusations)". Basis of Law 10
“El art. 9.3 CE prohíbe la retroactividad de las disposiciones sancionadoras desfavorables o restrictivas de derechos pero no impone la retroactividad de las favorables, lo que, sin embargo, sí podría encontrar a algún apoyo en el derecho de la Unión Europea (art. 49.1 Carta de Derechos Fundamentales de la Unión Europea). Lo decisivo para rechazar la eventual retroactividad de esa nueva normativa es que no nos enfrentamos a una disposición sustantiva, sino procesal; y, además, no inequívocamente beneficiosa. Lo será solo para alguna (s) de las partes del proceso: la que haya visto desestimadas sus pretensiones. Para la otra será desfavorable. El art. 2.2 CP y también el art. 9.3 CE o el art. 49.1 CDFUE juegan respecto de las normas sustantivas; no alcanzan a las procesales. La introducción de un nuevo recurso de apelación no es a priori y en abstracto favorable al reo. La igualdad procesal de armas impide entender que una misma resolución solo fuese impugnable por una parte (condenado) y no por las otras (acusaciones)”. Fundamento de Derecho 10º.