Spain's government under fire for blurring lines between executive and judiciary

Spain's Justice Minister Dolores Delgado arrives for a cabinet meeting at the Moncloa Palace in Madrid

MADRID (Reuters) - Just days into its mandate, Spain's new government has come into conflict with several judges on the country's judicial watchdog, several of whom voted on Thursday against the controversial appointment of a former justice minister as prosecutor general.

The nomination of Dolores Delgado, previously the justice minister under Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, passed by 12 votes to seven, despite sparking accusations of the politicization of the judiciary.

According to the General Council of the Judiciary the seven dissenting members harboured concerns that Delgado's appointment could "create the appearance of a link with the executive branch that does not contribute to the perception of the judiciary's independence."

The council, which is composed of judges nominated by Sanchez's Socialists and the conservative People's Party, advises on judicial appointments, though Thursday's vote was non-binding.

When questioned on Tuesday over whether the nomination could threaten the image of an impartial justice system, Sanchez defended his choice.

"She is absolutely qualified, has an impeccable resume and a trajectory in the prosecutor's office that is without question," he said.

Delgado must now appear before the parliamentary justice committee before her appointment is voted on by the Cabinet.

Spain's judicial system has been in the spotlight in recent years, most recently in October after the sentencing of nine Catalan separatist leaders to prison terms of up to 13 years.

A spokesman for the Catalan separatist party Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC), whose support was critical to Sanchez taking power, said it was too early to criticise the appointment.

"We're hoping for the best and prepared for the worst," Gabriel Rufian told reporters.

Pablo Casado, the leader of the opposition People's Party, described the appointment as "misguided" as well as "an attack on the separation of powers."

A comparable precedent in modern Spain dates back to 1986, when Felipe Gonzalez, the then Socialist prime minister, appointed a minister in his government as prosecutor general.


(Reporting by Emma Pinedo, Paola Luelmo, Ashifa Kassam, Belén Carreño; writing by Nathan Allen and Ashifa Kassam; editing by Jonathan Oatis)