Tarragona has at least 12 saturated courts Y needs the creation of another four to start decongesting the system. This is one of the shortcomings pointed out in the Memory of the Provincial Court of Tarragona of 2021, which x-rays the difficulties in the exercise that there were during a past year in which the Covid “continued to limit the normal functioning of judicial activity in the province”, in the words of Joan Perarnau, president of the Court.
The situation is compromised, also in part due to a pandemic that has further aggravated the situations of collapse, as the president himself acknowledges but also the Col·legi de l’Advocacia de Tarragona. “The vast majority of judicial bodies in the province are overloaded with work”maintains the head of the judicial entity.
In 2021 there was a «increase in the entry of cases in courts and tribunals”, responded with a “commendable” increase in the resolution, which “was not always enough”. The pandemic has had a negative influence. “The capacity limitationsthe need to comply with the strict sanitary measures, the numerous casualties produced or the suspension of trials, in percentages of 30-40% in some phases, has generated a generalized slowdown of judicial activity”, states the report. The arrival, in December 2021, of 15 new judges from the Escola Judicial has alleviated “the endemic desertification suffered by this province and all of Catalonia.”
But the shortages are not uniform in the province. Rather, the opposite happens: contrasts abound. The situation of the courts of Terres de l’Ebre (Tortosa, Amposta and Gandesa) is “good, much better than those of Camp de Tarragona (Tarragona, Reus, El Vendrell and Valls), having the first adjusted workloads or even lower than those legally provided for.
“Excessive” response time
Overall, the most pressing situation is the social one, with a workload that continues to exceed, by far, the appropriate one. This is also extendable to civil and commercial jurisdiction. In this last court, which assumes all the litigations that have to do with the business sphere, there is perhaps the most chronic saturation. Certainly, there is a improvement for having progressed in the resolutionbut even so the organ drags the blockade inherited from previous years.
The response time is 20.4 months, almost two years, clearly “excessive” according to the Court, which translates into a direct impact on the citizen, victim of delays. There are 29% more cases than the court could legally take on, which is why it is urgent to request the creation of a second company in Tarragona. Meanwhile, the reinforcement measures are maintained.
The x-ray is one of contrasts: good situation in Terres de l’Ebre and problems in Camp de Tarragona
Another clearly deficient front is the social one, where a good part of the labor conflict (from layoffs to ERTE) generated by Covid-19 has ended up. In that plot there are four saturated courts (three in Tarragona and one in Reus, the one in Tortosa works well), so two more are needed, one of them in the provincial capital and the other in the Baix Camp. “They are judged oversaturated, with a workload that has exceeded almost 70% this year,” Perarnau details.
The waiting time ranges between a year and a year and a half and all of them have a common link: the effort to resolve the issues stands out but, at the same time, it is verified that the rate of entry is so high that decongestion does not come. The second social court in Reus is a claim that comes from afar, due to the collapse of the only one to date and that registers perhaps the most dramatic statistics: it receives 85% more cases than it should to function properly, despite that it is reinforced.
It is the body with the most entries in the province: 1,482 cases entered it when there should be 800. The result is a waiting time of 13 months, although in 2020 it was 18.
Lawyers also warn of the situation. «The current saturation in the courts is explained by a double effect of the pandemic. On the one hand, because the restrictions that we have suffered in the last two years have slowed down many procedures. On the other, because the pandemic has caused an increase in conflicts in some areas»relates Estela Martín, dean of the Col·legi de l’Advocacia de Tarragona.
Martín emphasizes that “the most affected judicial areas are social and commercial” and that “it is very important to continue investing in human and technical resources to combat this saturation, especially in those two areas.”
Charges in the first instance
But the penalties are not saved either. Of the nine in the province, in five of them, all in Tarragona capital, the entry limit is exceeded, even by up to 44%. On average, the excess is 33%, and although the president of the Court does not classify them as saturated, he does mention the increase in cases in the last year. The problems are also serious in the first instance: the six in Tarragona are saturated, with loads above 70% (they must manage 1,200 cases per year and exceed 2,000). Number five, the family one, is not. In instruction, for example, there is also work overload, but without reaching the saturation level. In Reus, five of the six of the first instance also drag overloads, of up to 54% in excess of work.
The congestion extends to other parts of the province. In El Vendrell, the civil courts exceed an overload of 60% on average, while the criminal courts function well. There is much more balance in places like Valls or in the Ebre, where the exceeding of the admitted threshold is more punctual.
Data from the General Council of the Judiciary also shows a worsening in the Covid years. 2021 ended with 60,858 pending issues. There are 2,540 more cases than there were at the end of 2020 and almost 20,000 more in relation to 2016, but the analysis over recent years shows the impact of the pandemic. In 2020, the number of resolutions fell significantly, which skyrocketed last year, when an attempt was made to recover ground, although unsuccessfully, because the cases admitted also rose a lot, reaching record records. As one of the hopeful aspects, the president of the Court highlights “The absolute adaptation in the way judges work” in the pandemicwhich “has resulted in productivity close to the years prior to Covid-19.”
Thus, the saturation scenario includes the mercantile, four social, six first-instance courts in Tarragona and at least the first-instance court in Reus, a body that requires reinforcement and reaches 21 month wait. There are a total of 12, according to a conservative estimate, although there are a large number of other organisms that far exceed their limits. To give some examples: prison number 1 in Tarragona –26% above what it should be– and number 4 –44%– have received reinforcements during the past year.
A “poor” situation
Not everything is negative in this x-ray. Perarnau, as the main positive note, highlights «the commitment of the Generalitat to build a new and unique judicial building for the city of Tarragona, a challenge on which I have worked intensely since my inauguration».
The president of the Court is direct and celebrates “the greater sensitivity” of the “involved administrations”, which “should allow improving the deficient, in general, situation in which the administration of justice finds itself in this province”, especially after “two years without creating a single court in the province and in all of Catalonia.”
The Col·legi de l’Advocacia believes along similar lines. “The long-awaited Tarragona Judicial Forum, the project that we have been waiting for so many years, would also contribute to making justice more efficient,” acknowledges the dean, Estela Martín, who highlights the convenience of unification: “With the judicial offices concentrated in a single piece of equipment, many procedures would be simplified and that would allow us to move towards a more agile justice”.