justiciaAfter the release of Inés del Río, after the recent and controversial judgment of the European Court of Human Rights on the “Parot doctrine”, it seems that Spanish society has been somewhat disappointed with the functioning of Justice in its country. Not only has a woman condemned to 3.828 years in prison for having committed 24 murders been let out on street, but the Spanish State has also been forced to pay 30,000 euros in compensation (which finally will go to satisfy the civil liability of the crimes). Moreover, the Council of Europe has celebrated compliance with their revision of the Parot doctrine and the release of 69 inmates, 61 of them members of the ETA.

The Parot doctrine, simply explained, refers to a process of determination of the specific sentence that the convicted party will serve in prison. Put another way, our Penal Code sets maximum sentences that can be inforced (40 years, according to the text of the 2003 reform), according to which a conviction such as that of Inés del Río could never surpass this limit. On top of these limitations are the so-called “prison benefits”, among which is the possibility of reducing the sentence through hard work. To give a practical example, a serial killer, sentenced to hundreds of years in prison, would serve a maximum of 40 years and could see his sentence decreased by work done in the prison.

As a response to this mockery of the State’s punitive power, the Supreme Court issued the verdict 197/2006, which allowed the prisoners to reduce their sentences through work, but taking as reference the total sentence (often hundreds of years) and not the upper limit of 40 years. The result was a nearly complete serving of the upper limit allowed by the code and an effective failure to apply the prison benefit system to these criminals.

It seems obvious that the Spaniards have reason to feel betrayed by the recent acts of the criminal justice system, but should carefully consider who is really guilty of the current situation of impunity of the recently released parties. Ultimately, the interpretation that the Strasbourg Court has made seems the most rational and the most consistent with the constitutional principle of non-retroactivity, which does not allow us to apply a rule to criminal acts already produced before its entry into force.

Wouldn’t it be fairer, perhaps, to realize that the present situation has been caused, not by the judges, but by a negligence from our law makers in not reforming our criminal code on these issues and making it unnecessary to resort to formulas like the Parot doctrine by the judges

For more information about proposed reforms to the Spanish Criminal Code, click here.

Article by Mark Athos Franklin, English lawyer in the Rodríguez Bernal law firm.
Antonio Pedro Rodriguez Bernal has been practicing Law for over fifteen years and has extensive experience in criminal matters and in administrative procedures. For more information, visit our webpage’s related section or contact us directly at mathos@rodriguezbernal.com.
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