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OPINION
Text in which the author defends ideas and reaches conclusions based on his / her interpretation of facts and data

Pardon me?

Are government pardons so exceptional as we imagined? Not at all. All our prime ministers in recent decades have given them out with generous hands

Javier Marías

I have to admit that until recently I had never given much thought to the Pardons Law or its application in Spain. I imagined that government pardons were very exceptional things, and always accompanied by some reasonable explanation for pardoning someone whose guilt had been demonstrated in court. I imagined something like three, five or 10 pardons per year. But I confess I had never paid much attention to the matter.

If we have begun to wonder, it is due to the outrageously arbitrary character of certain recent pardons: that of four Catalan policemen convicted of torturing a prisoner; a few entrepreneurs, politicians and bankers; two military officers found responsible for the famous transport plane crash in 2003 that killed 75 people, mostly Spanish soldiers; a thrill-seeking "kamikaze" driver (driving the wrong way on a four-lane divided highway) who killed a man on his demented joyride.

In this last case, the only shadow of a possible reason for pardon is so shameful that it is better to rule it out: the kamikaze had been defended by a law office which, it seems, employs a brother of one prominent PP member, Ignacio Astarloa, and the son of the Justice Minister Gallardón. By contrast, it clamors to heaven that no pardon (repeatedly requested) has been given to a former drug addict who has been doing social work for some time, called Reboredo; while Esperanza Aguirre has announced she is going to request a pardon for her party's speed-happy puppy, Carromero, whom she visited in prison, after his expensive repatriation from Cuba, where was in prison for reckless driving after killing two in a road accident.

Are these pardons so exceptional as we imagined? Not at all. All our prime ministers in recent decades have given them out with generous hands. Suárez, 410 in less than two years; Calvo-Sotelo, 878 in a similar period; Felipe González, 5,944 in 13 years; Aznar, 5,948 in eight; Rajoy, 501 in just a year. Total: 17,059.

The average is about 500 a year, more than one per day. This means that the work of prosecutors and lawyers has been in vain 500 times a year

The average is about 500 a year, more than one per day. This means that the work of prosecutors, lawyers, police, witnesses, juries, etc. has been in vain 500 times a year. No surprise then that the courts are so slow, when convincing proof is required for sentences, which are frustrated by the whim of the government. A little research shows that: the Pardons Law dates from 1870; there is no appeal against the measure of grace; the decision is "discretional," that is, the government need not explain why it grants a pardon; it is granted with absolute opacity or, more to the point, shadiness; and, finally, it is applicable to every type of crime.

No doubt you will perceive the significance of all this: what is established by the justice system, one of the supposedly independent branches of government, fundamental to every democratic state, may be annulled and short-circuited by the executive branch (through the Justice Ministry, ha, ha) with no explanation to anyone, and no recourse against its arbitrary will. Supposing those responsible for the Gürtel corruption network are ever convicted (a large assumption), they can be pardoned. If the multiple rapist/killer Anglés is ever caught, convicted and sentenced, he can be pardoned. ETA terrorists who have shot people in the back of the head and the Islamists who placed the bombs on the Madrid commuter train in 2004, killing almost 200, can be pardoned. They would still be guilty - their crime is still on the books, for a pardon is not an amnesty - but they would walk out the prison door, because the government so desired.

It is hard to understand why such a law is still on the books. And even less, why our prime ministers go on making liberal use of it. Last year alone, 501 criminals were set free. Who are they? For what reason? The government's answer is always the same: "We don't have to give explanations to anyone, not even the voters." That's that.

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