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One hundred years since the birth of an universal Catalan jurist: Ramon Maria Roca i Sastre

Published in Catalan in the newspaper Avui, section Diàleg, 27th September 1999.

Joan Bernà
Notary and spokesman from the Roca Sastre Centenary tribute commission

People could say that “law is the poetry of life” or that “law is not created but discovered”. An unskilled-legal secular look would sentence the gratuitousness of both sentences. However, a reasoned approach to the life and work of Ramon Maria Roca Sastre, born in Tàrrega the 1st January 1899, will testify the happy fulfillment of both conclusions, which are from him. Too often women and men respond indifferently to the signals of a vital itch that challenges them. Roca Sastre embodied the antithesis of this prosaic behavior and magnified his natural skills, in order to project them towards the imperishable intellectual results that we enjoy nowadays, definitely integrated into our legal-historical heritage.

His son, Lluís Roca Sastre i Muncunill, notary from Barcelona and a worthy continuator of his father’s scientific work, has had the good fortune to publish a biography that will accompany anyone who, either being jurist or not, wants to measure the transcendence of Roca’s seal in the cadences of the future. His texts, read, reread and studied so many times by generations of opponents and professionals, are presented as branches of a robust trunk, relocated in the social consciousness by virtue of the author’s vocational genius. The keystone of his humanistic conception is the notion of institutional law, because “in the legal world, as in the physical or chemical order, there is a complete series of different legal figures and institutions that are presented as formulas of protection of human interests, among which the legislator or the custom of each country, of each moment, of each place, chooses the most apt to incorporate to his positive ordering”. This right is equidistant both from romanticism, because it arises from the observation of lived practices, and from classical natural law, understood as immutable, as long as the moral foundation on which it feeds is the search for a common benefit, not an abstract one, but suitable for people, subject and place where it is applied. Civil liberty and customary foundation (moral, as a derivative of mos, mores, custom) of the rules: here is the coincidence of their formulations with the first two general principles of Catalan civil law, generally assumed.

Such a clean and elegant approach to shortcuts leading to knowledge of men and peoples’ laws would have been incompatible with an artificial ease of their daily acts, or with an oblique temper in their various legal professions: property registrar, notary, lawyer, judge, magistrate of the Court of Cassation of the Republican Generalitat. Roca was an usual Catalan citizen and expressed in his language his personal and legal opinions as far as it was not necessary to do it in Spanish. Thus all the sentences of which he was rapporteur in the Court of Cassation were dictated in Catalan; he worked in Catalan as a member of the Legal Advisory Commission of the Generalitat and gave, and then published, two lectures at the Academy of Jurisprudence and Legislation of Catalonia in 1932 and 1933, maintaining positions as clear as those the following paragraphs emerge: “There are two realities in our land which, in spite of the attacks and offensives which have been directed at them, have always remained firm: language and civil law. The first remained firm in front of the process of assimilation, domination and empire of the Spanish language and became the tool that endured massive sense of Catalan identity. The second holded so much and so hard that prevents the Spanish civil codification, forcing the codifying process to make a revision and bring into failure the Civil Code of 1851 for its uniformist tendency and provoked the new harmonic and transactional tendency that recognizes the life and subsistence of the so-called foral rights in the article 12 of the current Civil Code, despite having to resist the uniforming tendency of the Supreme Court”; “If we want to keep intact our right’s land, we must move in these transcendental times for Catalonia and not be reduced to the closed migration of inertia. Catalan jurists must act with conferences, pressure on parliamentarians, etc., and I believe that the leaders of our law must show themselves and make their voices heard in defense of the integrity of Catalan civil law. They would fulfill a duty and deserve the benefit for Catalonia”.

The texts brought up here are possibly the least known from our character. Certainly, there is a line of continuity, bridging the distances of context, with the task of drafting the entire succession part of the Compilation of Catalan Civil Law, approved by the Francoist Parliament in 1960. But those slow demonstrations may seem incompatible with the later decantation towards the elaboration of the monumental manual of Derecho hipotecario, a classic in Spain and even many countries that are legally close to it. This is not the case, as Roca was, on the one hand, a possibilist and, on the other, scientifically generous with all legal systems and also, therefore, with the Spanish system, to which he belonged as a notary. Roca Sastre always remained faithful to his idea-strength of institutional law, and was careful not to statically compartmentalize the figures he defined, but he managed to grasp their personal and territorial dynamism. From the deep knowledge of Roman law and Germanic law, suppliers of valuable contours that he knew how to adapt to later needs, derived often similar consequences between the different territorial systems. Thus, with an indisputable naturalness, he impregnated the Castilian law with Catalan influences, such as the possibility of paying in cash for the legitimate. He did not impose this solution, he simply made it clear that the sociological conditions on which the so-called common Spanish civil law was projected had evolved and demanded to accept it as a positive norm.

As happened on the occasion of being appointed doctor honoris causa by the University of Barcelona in 1972, or when he retired as a notary in 1974, and unfailingly when he died on 27st December 1979, articles and uplifting notes of his personality have emerged this year. In 1976, Puig Salellas asked himself: “What is the cause of the general adherence, of the great influence that the figure of Roca has in the Catalan private legal world?”. And he concluded: “1) he has intensely examined the country and understood it. 2) he has had the desire to implement solutions based on common sense and also on commitment, while sacrificing, if necessary, their own basic ideologies”. López Burniol, much more recently, has not hesitated to describe him as the first Catalan jurist of the 20th century.

The opportunity of the Centenary has justified that some law professionals, from the city where he saw the light, thought inescapable to contribute as well our bit of organizational solidarity towards which it has been a great festival of law and civility. The Centenary commission, made up of representatives of the Ajuntament de Tàrrega, the Consell Comarcal de l’Urgell, the Centre Cultural de Tàrrega and the aforementioned professionals, has been offering, throughout the first months of the year, a set of events and publications that have allowed the dissemination of the huge work of Roca Sastre and, more importantly, the understanding of its social influence, events that culminated in an emotional 8th May in Tàrrega, successfully opened not only to scholars of inheritance and mortgage law, but also to all those people who were curious to approach the western roots and the full life of this Pla-styled unique homenot.