Academic's extradition to Spain suspended

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Professor Clara Ponsati outside Edinburgh Sheriff CourtImage source, PA Media
Image caption,
Professor Clara Ponsati outside Edinburgh Sheriff Court

Extradition proceedings for an academic at St Andrews University have been suspended.

Professor Clara Ponsati is wanted in Spain on a charge of sedition over her role in Catalonia's unsanctioned independence referendum in 2017.

But the academic, who denies any wrongdoing, argues that her position as an MEP gives her immunity.

Prof Ponsati appeared at Edinburgh Sheriff Court for a preliminary hearing.

The court had been expected to consider the competency of the extradition warrant and issues surrounding dual criminality, which relate to whether the law is an offence in both countries.

But Prof Ponsati's lawyer Gordon Jackson QC told the court the Spanish government had applied to the European Parliament asking it to waive her immunity so she could be prosecuted.

Mr Jackson told the court there was no point discussing matters further until the immunity issue was settled, describing the current situation as a "stalemate".

He said: "Ms Ponsati has immunity from prosecution in Spain and Spain do not dispute that.

"Spain has applied to the European Parliament for waiver of the immunity.

"We've agreed that it would make absolutely no sense whatsoever to keep going with this till that immunity issue is sorted."

Case awaits Brussels decision

Speaking outside the court, Prof Ponsati said: "Spain is acting in a manner totally outside the parameters of the European Union, not respecting the decisions of the European Court of Justice."

Prof Ponsati became an MEP after five seats in the European Parliament were given to Spain when the UK left the EU in January.

Solicitor Advocate John Scott QC, for the Crown, said Spain applied for the waiver in February and that it may be about four months before a decision was made.

It is expected that the issue of waiving the immunity will be put to a full vote of the European Parliament.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Police officers stand guard amid burning barricades in Barcelona last year after protests about the prosecutions of Catalan politicians

Prof Ponsati faces a single charge of sedition, which relates to the organising of the referendum in her role as education minister in Catalonia.

Spanish prosecutors argue that the 2017 unilateral declaration of independence was an attack on the Spanish state and accused some of those involved of a serious act of rebellion.

Prof Ponsati could be sentenced to 15 years if convicted, with nine other Catalan officials given jail sentences of between nine and 13 years for the same offence in autumn last year.