A little over six years ago the Penal Section of the Spanish Supreme Court, with three votes against, established the so-called Parot Doctrine, which rendered retroactive a judicial decision unfavorable to the convicted person. The court thus performed a radical turnaround on its traditional jurisprudence regarding the shortening of sentences in exchange for labor. This U-turn was done with the aim of preventing the release of certain sanguinary ETA terrorists convicted under the terms of the old Penal Code, which dated from 1973, in the Franco era.
The prevalent, fascistic severity of the Code (which would have kept the prisons grossly overcrowded) was somewhat mitigated by a set of lenient terms of early release in exchange for good behavior and labor performed in prison.
Now, one of these ETA convicts, Inés del Río, has succeeded in having the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg reverse this decision. The tribunal calls for the Spanish state to set her free, and to give her 30,000 euros in compensation for the wrongful extension of her incarceration. The Strasbourg ruling amounts to an embarrassing legal setback for the Spanish Supreme Court. But it also reflects poorly on the Spanish Constitutional Court — which, having been in a position to amend the juridical aberration involved in the Parot Doctrine, did no more than examine the question of whether or not the alterations of sentences made in accordance with the doctrine were technically correct.
It is a bitter cup of gall for the Spanish state to swallow, to find itself condemned to pay reparations, at the instance of an ETA terrorist, who was sentenced to the operatic, astronomical term of 3,000 years in prison for her participation in, among others, the bloody bomb attack in the Plaza de la República Dominicana in Madrid in 1986.
Yet this bitter drink was ordered by the Spanish state, which must now take it. It is a consequence of the fudging, ramshackle opportunism with which the Supreme Court in 2006 decided that the reduction of sentences in exchange for labor — from which at that time several individuals convicted under the 1973 code still stood to benefit — must be calculated on the total sentence (in her case, 3,000 years) and not on the maximum prison sentence of 30 years, as had — logically — been the practice until then.
The Popular Party (PP) opposition of those days, which now forms the government — and is just as heavily influenced now as it was then by the sector of public opinion demanding that ETA prisoners be kept behind bars indefinitely — faces the unwelcome task of complying with the Strasbourg court’s ruling. It can drag its feet as long as it likes; file, as it indeed proposes to do, appeals to the bitter end — perhaps in infringement of the prisoner’s rights — and leave the door open to the possibility of further adverse rulings in some 30 cases that are still pending.