Spanish society is going to have to live with the release of ETA murderers from prison as well as that of other criminals convicted under the penal code of 1973, and subsequently kept longer in prison than this code allows in application of the so-called "Parot doctrine."
Far from setting a general guideline for the application of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling invalidating this doctrine, the Supreme Court considers that each individual tribunal must now rule on the applicability of the shortening of sentences (due to good behavior and work), under the terms of the more lenient old code in the cases of individual prisoners: the national High Court in the case of terrorists, and the provincial courts in the case of other criminals.
In simple terms, the Supreme Court has done what it had to do. It was bound by the ruling of the Strasbourg-based court, whose ruling concretely applies to ETA prisoner Inés del Río, who has already been released from jail, but is also extendable to other persons convicted under the penal code of 1973. This confirms that the High Court was not mistaken in initiating the release of terrorists in response to the ECHR decision, however terrible their crimes may have been and however much pain they may have caused. Quite rightly, neither the High Court nor the Supreme Court have allowed themselves to become embroiled in questionable initiatives aimed at preventing such releases from happening.
What has happened here is that the Supreme Court has amended an error concerning the decision it made in 2006 — with one eye on the letter of the law, and another on public emotions and a political and media campaign — to change the then-existing guidelines on the reduction of prison sentences on grounds of good behavior. In line with the spirit of that campaign, the president of the Association of Victims of Terrorism (AVT) is now demanding the Supreme Court should be abolished because it has not behaved in consonance with her particular idea of justice after weeks of raising a clamor against the government.
The fact that convicted murderers are now going to be free to walk the street is repugnant and difficult to stomach, but this is not the first time that it has happened. The pressure for stopping or delaying judicial orders for the release of such prisoners, based understandably on the gross mismatch between the original sentences of hundreds or even thousands of years imprisonment, and the 20- to 30-year terms they effectively serve, stem from the presumption that the executive branch or the judiciary are empowered to keep prisoners behind bars at will, whatever the laws or the court in Strasbourg may say.
This audacious presumption, which underlies the rhetoric of those who are campaigning for non-compliance with the Strasbourg ruling, cannot be accepted. If the democratic state and the rule of law have defeated ETA, it is absurd to make nonsense of this victory by indulging in arbitrary applications of justice.