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King Felipe celebrates 40th anniversary of key Spanish institution

King Felipe of Spain visited the building of the People’s Defender to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Spanish Parliament appointing the first person to that role. 

On Monday, 9th January, the King arrived at the building, located in the capital Madrid, and was welcomed by the Minister of Justice, Pilar Llop, and the current People’s Defender, Ángel Gabilondo Pujol. 

His Majesty was then escorted through a tour of the premises and uncovered a plaque to commemorate his visit before sitting down to preside over a meeting with all the institution’s directors. 

He then went on to sign the guest book before holding a short meeting with staff members, during which he gave a short speech, in which he said, partly: “[The institution] serves the due respect to the dignity of each individual, the inviolable rights that are inherent to them, the free development of personality, the respect of the law and the rights of others – all as pillars of public order and social peace.”

The People’s Defender is a role that was born in 1981 to “defend the citizens’ fundamental rights and public freedoms through the supervision of the activity of the Spanish public administrations,” according to Casa Real. 

The Defender is elected by a 3/5ths majority of the House and Senate for a five-year term but acts independently of any institutions and has immunity from prosecution and inviolability throughout their entire mandate. 

The authority can be called upon by any citizen to settle disputes about supposed irregularities in the works of any Spanish public administration, but it can also intervene if an irregularity becomes known, even if no one has raised a formal complaint. 

The services of the People’s Defender are free for all Spanish citizens. Since 2009, the duties of the role also include the safeguarding of the rights of people in detention since Spain adhered to the UN’s protocol against torture and other forms of cruel and unusual punishments (2002). 

The current Defender, Ángel Gabilondo Pujol, was elected in November 2021; before him, the seat was occupied by Joaquín Ruiz-Giménez Cortés (1982-1987), Álvaro Gil-Robles y Gil-Delgado (1988-1993), Fernando Álvarez de Miranda y Torres (1994-1999), Enrique Múgica Herzog (elected for two consecutive mandates, 2000-2005 and 2006-2010), and Soledad Becerril Bustamante (2012-2017). In the gap years, many have served as interim Defenders, while the two branches of Parliament came up with names that they could both agree on since no party had the necessary majority at the time.