AFP

Crisis of identity

Immunity, it seems, isn't like Covid: your chances of getting it don't increase the closer you get to someone who already has it

Mark Nayler
MARK NAYLER

Although fraud investigations against Juan Carlos have been abandoned here and in Switzerland, Spain's former king remains the focus of a nuanced legal battle in London.

On Monday, Juan Carlos's barristers successfully challenged a High Court ruling of March this year, according to which the emeritus king no longer enjoys immunity and could be tried for harassment allegations brought against him by a former lover.

Arguments against that ruling will now be heard by the UK's Court of Appeal, probably next week. Whoever's sitting on the bench will hear an ingenious but flawed case from the former king's barristers, who claim that a harassment trial (regardless of its outcome) would "inescapably impact" current Spanish monarch Felipe VI, Juan Carlos's son.

The idea is that Juan Carlos, although no longer a king himself, can still shelter under the immunity possessed by his reigning son.

It's a clever defence, but there are two glaring problems with it. First, it involves an insupportably elastic definition of immunity, as that perk is defined in the Spanish Constitution. Article 56 says that "the person of the King is inviolable and shall not be held accountable".

There's no mention of immunity being transmitted to the king's mates or kids. Immunity, it seems, isn't like Covid: your chances of getting it don't increase the closer you get to someone who already has it.

Secondly, it's not obvious that a harassment case WOULD have any negative impact on Felipe VI. A poll conducted just after Juan Carlos went into exile in August 2020 actually showed a slight increase in his son's popularity, with 64% of respondents saying Felipe was doing a good job, compared to 49% a month earlier.

This indicates that Spaniards think Felipe was right to take a tough stance on his father's alleged misdemeanors - a stance that the current monarch has maintained ever since.

That poll also undermines the king's lawyers' appeal in a more profound way. It suggests that most Spaniards draw a line between the personal affairs of Juan Carlos, which have been shrouded in controversy since he abdicated in 2014, and the uneventful reign of his dour son. If that's true, even if immunity extends to the emeritus king, there'd be no good reason to prevent a harassment trial.

Once again, it's an English court that has to decide a question Spain hasn't answered itself, and perhaps doesn't want to: who is Juan Carlos? An accused man stripped of the perks of sovereignty, or an untouchable emeritus king bathed in the light of his son's immunity? London made the right decision once, hopefully it'll do so again.