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Interview with Francisco López Simó, Professor of Procedural Law and Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of the Balearic Islands (UIB)
Francisco López Simó succeeded Santiago Cavanillas as Dean of the UIB Faculty of Law in July 2014, since when he has worked vigorously at the head of the 1500 students and 125 lecturers involved in Law and Labour Relations studies on the university’s Palma campus. The Faculty has a large deanery team, which includes the Dean, five Vice Deans and a Secretary.
– This month you will have been Dean of the UIB Faculty of Law for two years. What is your appraisal of this period and what challenges do you see for the Faculty in the near future?
-My appraisal is a very positive one. On a personal level, I have been hurled headlong into the unfamiliar and stimulating world of university management. As well as an honour and a privilege, it is an enormous professional challenge to be in charge of the Faculty, striving every day to move forward improvement projects to maintain and raise the university’s high national ranking.
On a wider level, I am satisfied with the work so far, because during my first two years as Head of the Faculty, I’ve been working, the whole deanery team has been working towards the ANECA (National Quality Assessment and Accreditation Agency) accreditation, to bring our new study programmes into line with the requirements of the European Higher Education Area and the Bologna Process. Finally, after a year of really hard, intensive work in 2015, with hundreds of reports, meetings with all the groups involved, assessment visits and so on, we can say that the accreditation process has gone very well, to the extent that we now have preliminary reports indicating that our study programmes —the Degree in Law, Degree in Labour Relations, and the Master’s in the Practice of Law which we run in conjunction with the Balearics Bar Association— comfortably comply with ANECA’s quality assurance standards. It is gratifying to know that ANECA’s assessment is that the Faculty of Law operates splendidly, that our academic offering is of a high standard. Even more gratifying, if that’s possible, is the knowledge that employers rank our graduates among the best in the country, according to the Everis Foundation’s most recent ranking (https://es.fundacioneveris.com/informe_universidad_empresa_2016.pdf). Lecturers, administrative and services staff, students, all have reason to feel very proud of this Faculty!
As for new challenges for the Faculty over the coming years, I have plenty of projects in mind. Creating a judicial oratory chair which will enable us to provide students with adequate training in this crucial skill for any legal professional; promoting the internationalisation of the Faculty by offering more subjects in English; increasing our Erasmus agreements; even setting up a Spanish-German group within the Degree in Law programme. The purpose of all of these proposals is the same: to strive for excellence and ensure that this Faculty of Law is recognised and highly-regarded in Spain as well as overseas. And we can achieve that, we have the resources to do so.
– Which aspects do you think are significantly better for UIB law students today, compared with thirty years ago when you graduated in Law from the UIB?
– A great deal has changed, and, in my opinion, for the better, in the orientation of Law studies at the UIB and Spanish universities in general. The study programme I followed (the 1953 Programme) was a five-year programme, with 25 subjects each year, based on purely theoretical explanations which we had to learn by heart, by swotting. Lengthy law manuals, legislative codes: it was very much memory-based study. Today things are different. Law studies are completed in four years, with 40 subjects each semester, combining theory and practice in approximately a 65:35 ratio. Beginning in the first year, degree students have theoretical and practical classes in all subjects, which allows them to acquire skills and abilities we didn’t acquire in the whole of our time at university: how to draw up a contract, a report, a claim. I would say that, as a result, by the time our students leave university, they are well prepared to enter the professional workforce, in law firms, companies, wherever. On the other hand, they find it harder to cope with public-sector entrance exams, which is logical, because they’re not used to swotting. I believe the whole approach to public sector entrance exams (for appointment of notaries, judges, etc.) should change; it should be appropriate to the education received by students at today’s Faculties of Law.
– How prepared do you think Faculty of Law students regard themselves at the end of their studies? Have you noticed any professional concerns among students in relation to, for example, the field of new technologies and Internet law?
-Throughout their degree, students complete a series of surveys that are an indispensable part of UIB’s quality assurance system. At the end of each semester, students answer a satisfaction survey on the subjects they have taken and the lecturers they have had. The survey is conducted anonymously, so that students can answer with complete freedom. At the end of each academic year, they also complete a survey on their general level of satisfaction with the study programme they are following and how the Faculty is organised and operated. Finally, students about to complete their studies in the fourth year complete a survey of around fifty questions related to the skills they should have acquired in the course of their degree, in which we ask them, for example, if they feel capable of drafting a private prosecution or an administrative appeal. And, generally speaking, our students’ responses in all of these surveys indicate a fairly high degree of satisfaction, with lecturers, study programmes, Faculty organisation and level of training receiving a rating of around eight out of ten.
With regard to new technologies, clearly these are having a profound impact in all areas, Law included. Internet is throwing up a lot of new legal issues such as the use of the Internet as a vehicle to commit crime (cybercrime), and the cancellation of personal details supplied to websites (the right to be forgotten). This is a new area of Law which stimulates a lot of interest among the students, because they have been born and raised surrounded by these new technologies, they are part of their daily lives. Conscious of this, we have core subjects (Civil, Penal) within our study programme that tackle these new legal issues. We even have some optional subjects like “Electronic and Internet Commerce”, designed to educate students about these issues on the cutting edge.
– You are a professor of Procedural Law. How would you explain what the subject is about to someone who knew little or nothing about it?
-Very briefly, I would explain that when a legal dispute cannot be settled amicably through negotiation, the only alternative is to apply to the jurisdiction of the courts for a resolution of the conflict through legal proceedings. Procedural law is, basically, the discipline that explains all of that: the jurisdiction, the process, and the rights and obligations of those involved.
I would also say, from the impassioned point of view of someone who dedicates his life to it, that I consider it a very important subject, indispensable for anyone involved in the practice of the law. You cannot be a good lawyer, procurator, judge or public prosecutor without mastering procedural law! And I think that students also perceive, very early on in their degree, that it is one of the lynchpins of their legal education.
– With Spain a member of the EU, European law is increasingly setting the legislative agenda. In your opinion, how much coherent coordination exists between European and Spanish regulations? In which direction should we be heading?
-European law (the treaties, rules, directives) is an integral part of the legislative system of the member states. Those member states are primarily responsible for its correct application, and they must also, where necessary, transpose EU directives into their own nation’s law within a stipulated period. Sadly, some states —and ours is one of them— quite often fail to meet this commitment, repeatedly violating EU legislation. The EU has had to give us a slap on the wrist on numerous occasions: the “health centime”, the Parot Doctrine, aid to Spanish steelworkers and football clubs, the European Health Insurance Card, and so on. This is not the way to proceed. If you want to be a member of a club, you have to accept and comply with all its rules!
I am a staunch defender of the EU, of European integration, because Europe guarantees, not only the single market economy, but also freedom, democracy and security. Right now with so much talk and concern about the United Kingdom’s Brexit, we want the process of building Europe to be irreversible. We must continue moving forward, in political, economic and social union as well as in legislative union. More Europe, and more European law!
– What kind of relationship do you have, or have had, with Bufete Buades?
-Although I had heard a lot about him previously, I met Mr. Joan Buades personally at a postgraduate course on the new Criminal Procedure Act organised by Dr. Isabel Tapia and myself, which took place in Palma in the autumn of the year 2000. Mr. Buades took part as a speaker. I saw immediately that his professional background was very interesting, that he could be a good “signing” to the Faculty. And the opportunity arose during the 2001/2002 academic year, when I was Vice Dean of Academic Governance. The Faculty was implementing the so-called 1997 programme, a UIB Degree in Law study programme that was somewhere between the old 1953 programme and the current Bologna programme. An important part of the programme was the Practicum, a course taken by students in the second semester of the fifth year. The course was entirely practical, so we thought it should be run by practising legal professionals such as lawyers, judges and prosecutors. Mr. Buades was awarded one of the nine Associate Lecturer places we offered for the course. He was an Associate Lecturer on the Practicum course —specifically, in Court Practicum, lecturing in Civil Procedure Practice— until 2009. Subsequently, with the current Degree study programme, he became —and still is— a lecturer in the Department of Private Law, collaborating in the teaching of the fourth year subject option “Alternative means of conflict resolution”, a field in which he is highly specialised. In recent years he has also given a seminar on Company Arbitration and Bankruptcy Mediation to students of the Master’s in Advocacy, run by the UIB in conjunction with the Balearics Bar Association (ICAIB). So, in spite of his multiple commitments, Mr. Buades has been collaborating with us in teaching tasks for many years now, for which we are very grateful. It is very necessary, indeed essential, that the Faculty includes successful professional lawyers among its team of lecturers. No one is better qualified to offer students that practical vision of the law that the Bologna programme aims to promote.
As for his law firm, Bufete Buades, I don’t think I’m giving anything away if I say that it’s among the most important “local” law firms in the Balearic Islands, both for the number of cases it handles and the number of lawyers working there —some of whom, incidentally, were former students, good students, of this Faculty. Several of the firm’s lawyers have followed in the wake of Mr. Buades and got involved in university lecturing: Carlos de la Mata, Lorenzo Salva and Miguel Reus have all joined the Faculty as Associate Lecturers.
To sum up, my relationship, this Faculty’s relationship with Bufete Buades is a longstanding and fruitful one, in the academic sense. As I’ve just explained, the firm is —if you’ll forgive the expression— a good pool of Associate Lecturers for the UIB. And I hope it will continue to be so.
– There has been no shortage of major cases being tried in Balearic courtrooms in recent years. From your experience as a judge, and purely from a technical point of view, what is your opinion of the conduct of the Nóos case trial, one of the most, if not the most closely followed by the media in recent Spanish history?
-We could be talking for hours, for days, about the investigation and trial of the Nóos case. There is enough material there to fill several doctoral theses in penal and procedural law: the charges made and dropped against the Spanish Infanta during the investigation phase; the attempt on the part of Iñaki Urdangarín’s defence and the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor to remove Judge Castro from the case and have it tried instead by the Valencia Supreme Court of Justice; the Prosecutor’s attempt to accuse [and therefore disqualify] the lawyer representing Manos Limpias, the only party bringing a charge against the Infanta; the “procedural crossfire” exchanged between judge and prosecutor. All this, and much more, went on for no less than five and a half years of investigation and six months of public hearings, with six charges, eighteen defendants and more than 300 witnesses. From the start of this “macro-trial” to the sentencing, more than six years will have gone by. And it won’t end there, for the sentence will surely be appealed by one or other of the parties. In other words, the judicial response will come, but it will be a long, long time coming. Slow justice is still justice, I think, but less so.
We don’t have the time here to go into these and many other fascinating aspects of the case, but I feel one thing must be emphasised above all. The trial of the Nóos case has shown that, despite assertions to the contrary, all citizens are equal before the law. In the end, Cristina de Borbón, sister of the King and Spanish Infanta, had to sit in the dock; she was not spared that shame by the Baleares Provincial Court, which ruled not to apply the so-called Botín Doctrine. It remains to be seen what judgement the court will hand down, whether or not the Infanta will be convicted of cooperating in her husband’s tax fraud. Whatever the result, I think it is important to point out the extraordinary professionalism, independence and impartiality shown throughout the public hearing by examining magistrates Samantha Romero, Eleonor Moyá and Rocío Martín (incidentally, Romero is a former student and Moyá a former associate professor of this Faculty). One of the positive outcomes of the Nóos case is that, on this occasion, the judicial system has functioned correctly.
– In recent weeks there has been a lot of talk about the latest reform of the Criminal Procedure Act and its attendant issues, which public prosecutors warn will result in a huge number of cases being dismissed. What do you think of this reform, which came into force on 6 December 2015?
-The 2015 criminal procedural reform is the nth “patch-up” reform of our ancient Criminal Procedure Act of 1882, and, in my opinion, it should be viewed in a positive light overall. This latest reform introduces important new criminal justice measures to aid expedition and investigation (regulation covering technological investigation, both necessary and urgent since the Criminal Procedure Act up to now only included the interception of postal, telegraphic and telephone communications) and strengthen procedural guarantees (substitution of the term “accused” with “under investigation”, generalisation of the second instance in criminal cases, establishment of a review mechanism for sentences handed down by the European Court of Human Rights, and reinforcement of the right of defence in all stages of the penal process).
New measures introduced by the 2015 reform to expedite criminal justice and avoid needless delays in proceedings include modification of the rules on criminal connections, in order to avoid an increase in huge-scale “macro-cases”; no police statements relating to “unknown perpetrator” crimes are to be referred to the courts and the prosecution service; and the regulation of a new proceeding known as “acceptance by Decree” of the Public Prosecutor, which aims to provide a very rapid punitive response to minor offences. Doubtless the most significant measure, and the one to have attracted most media attention, is the setting of maximum terms for the investigation phase. The investigation phase of a criminal proceeding is limited to six months for straightforward cases and eighteen months for complex cases, terms which the legislator of the 2015 reform defines as “realistic” and “reliable”.
Prosecutors’ associations have warned of the risk of impunity inferred by these maximum terms. However, this doesn’t seem to me to be a very significant risk in reality. The 2015 reform has established a fairly extensive list of circumstances under which the investigation can be considered “complex” and therefore in practice it will be fairly common for an investigation that hits a problem and needs more time to be declared complex and so be permitted to run to a maximum of 18 months. That term may also be extended, for an equal or shorter term, at the petition of the Prosecutor, and in exceptional circumstances may even be extended again, at the petition of both the Prosecutor and the other participating parties, provided there are sufficient grounds to do so. And that’s not all: all of the terms mentioned are suspended for as long as proceedings are carried out in secrecy, or when a temporary stay of proceedings is agreed (new wording of Article 324 of the Criminal Procedure Act). The reality, therefore, is not an insurmountable and relatively short time boundary, but a flexible one that can run to as much as 36 months, three years!
– When you’re not expanding your knowledge of the law, what other kinds of books do you like to pass the time with?
-I like historical novels very much (Robert Graves, Pérez Galdos, Hugh Thomas, Santiago Posteguillo, Ken Follett), especially ones set in the Egypt of the Pharaohs (Christian Jacq, Terenci Moix). Then, biased by my profession, obviously, I also like fiction with a legal theme (John Grisham, Scott Turow, Robert Traver, Harper Lee, Borja Martínez-Echevarría).
However, reading is not what most entertains me in my free time these days, I suppose that’s an unconscious reaction to my work, which obliges me to read for so many hours every day. At weekends and on holidays, my favourite pastime is sport, mostly tennis and padel. I’m a tennis fan, I’ve been passionate about it since childhood and I take it up again in the summer holidays. I go into training and enter some veteran’s competition or other: I love the adrenalin of competition. Naturally I’m a big fan of our Rafa Nadal, I follow him on television and in action whenever I can. It would be fantastic to see him bite his tenth Musketeers Cup in Paris.
I also love travelling, getting away with just my wife or together with our children or friends. For me, it’s the best way to break with routine and really unwind. Mallorca is a wonderful place to live, but the world is far too beautiful to just stay at home and never get to see it!