The trial of Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], accused of ordering illegal wiretaps in jailhouses, began on Tuesday before a seven-judge panel of the Spanish Supreme Court [official website, in Spanish]. The court announced in October that Garzon would stand trial on the charges after the he was indicted in April [JURIST reports] for ordering the placement of wiretaps in jailhouses to record conversations between inmates and their lawyers. Garzon gave the order as part of an investigation into a network of businesses that allegedly gave money and gifts to members of Spain's Popular Party in exchange for government contracts. Garzon is facing a private prosecution [BBC report], which is permitted by Spanish law, after Spanish prosecutors asked that all charges against the former judge be dropped. The prosecution is being pursued by lawyers who had jailhouse conversations with their clients recorded by the wiretaps. They allege that Garzon violated their constitutional rights [CNN report] and exceeded his judicial authority by ordering the wiretaps. Garzon was suspended [JURIST report] by the General Council of the Judiciary in 2010 for abusing his power by opening an investigation into war crimes allegedly committed under Francisco Franco [BBC backgrounder] during the Spanish Civil War. He faces a second private prosecution related to the abuse of power charges [JURIST report], which is scheduled to begin next week.
In March, Garzon filed a petition [JURIST report] with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website], challenging the 2010 charges of abuse of power. In that case, Garzon is charged with politically motivated corruption in his investigation of crimes committed under the Franco dictatorship, in violation of the 1977 Amnesty Law, which affords amnesty for Franco-era crimes. The charges are based on Garzon's 2008 order [JURIST report] for certain government agencies, the Episcopal Conference, the University of Granada and the mayors of four cities to produce the names of people buried in mass graves, as well as the circumstances and dates of their burial. His petition follows the September 2010 decision of the Criminal Chamber of the Spanish Supreme Court, which unanimously confirmed [JURIST report] a lower court order that Garzon abused his power and must face trial. Garzon is widely known for using universal jurisdiction [AI backgrounder; JURIST news archive] extensively in the past to bring several high-profile rights cases, including those against Osama bin Laden and former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.