LEGAL SHAKE-UP

Justice Minister hits violent crime harder in proposed Penal Code reform

Gallardón wants revisable perpetual sentence for cases of “aggravated murder”

Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón on Friday unveiled the main lines of his reform of the Penal Code, making it one of the toughest in Europe.

Among his main proposals, Gallardón extends the new concept of revisable perpetual sentence, in which prisoners may be released only if shown to be rehabilitated, to crimes other than those related to terrorism, specifically cases of so-called aggravated murder. This covers situations in which the victim is under 16 or is particularly vulnerable due to disability or old age; cases of multiple murders; murders committed by members of criminal organizations and murders occurring after sexual assault.

Gallardón, who unveiled the proposed changes during Friday's regular Cabinet meeting, acknowledged that the modification came in response to a serious of recent crimes that have sparked particular social alarm. “I won’t name names, but we all have them in mind,” the minister said. However, Justice Ministry sources said the changes were made to the draft reform after listening to victims and experts.

Other aspects of the reform to the Penal Code proposed by Gallardón include the introduction of “security custody” under which particularly dangerous prisoners are continued to be held in prison after their jail terms are up. Illegal detention with the subsequent disappearance of the victim will now be treated with the same status as murder, a case that could apply to José Bretón, who is suspected of having murdered his children and burned their bodies to remove all traces.

The early release from prison this week of ETA convicted murderer and kidnapper Iosu Uribetxeberria Bolinaga on humanitarian grounds because of the terminal cancer he is suffering from angered groups supporting victims of terrorism and caused indignation among leading members of the Popular Party.

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