Spanish government tones down its controversial Citizen Safety Law

Focused on breaking up street protests, the proposed legislation had come in for strong criticism Revised bill modifies harsh provisions regarding home searches, street checks, frisking and fines

Student barricades at the Somosaguas campus of Madrid's Complutense University in October 2013.
Student barricades at the Somosaguas campus of Madrid's Complutense University in October 2013.Carlos Rosillo

The government has decided to tone down its controversial proposed Citizen Safety Law, which has met with serious criticism from opposition parties, civil society groups and top legislative bodies.

Presented in November, the bill included fines of up to €30,000 for shouting slogans or carrying signs “that are harmful or abusive to Spain or any region” during a protest. It also focused heavily on breaking up street demonstrations, and granted private security guards the power to help the police in this task. Critics said the legislation seemed tailor-made for the Popular Party (PP) government to quell public displays of citizen discontent over its handling of the economic crisis and the corruption cases that have come to light over recent years.

Now, the Interior Minister has taken into account all the objections raised by the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ), Spain’s legal watchdog, and by the Council of Attorneys, both of which had warned that parts of the draft might be unconstitutional.

The revised text has now been sent to the State Council advisory body for review before it moves to Congress.

More information
Safety bill calls for 30,000 euro fines for “offenses against Spain”
Judges, lawyers and police argue that Citizens Safety Law will curtail rights
Legal watchdog says parts of Citizen Safety Law are not constitutional
Interior Ministry to change parts of controversial Citizens Safety Law

So far, the Citizen Safety Law is the only bill in which the PP has shown a sensitivity to criticism. Another controversial project, abortion reform, is still pending review and approval.

The new bill has lost a lot of the focus on police action that defined the original text. The most notable changes are to the provisions regarding home searches, suspect identification, street checks, frisking and enforceable sanctions. Private security guards are not permitted to carry out law enforcement tasks, and legislators have also introduced a new scale of fines for the different types of offenses.

House searches. Existing legislation will be maintained, meaning that the police may only search a house with a warrant or when a crime is clearly being committed. The original draft allowed searches without a warrant if the homeowner permitted it.

Identifying suspects. Requesting identification will only be permitted when the police consider it a reasonable measure to prevent an actual crime, not an administrative violation. Individuals who cannot be identified on the spot may not be held there, but must be taken to the nearest police station until their identity is confirmed. Records must be kept indicating how long the suspect is held in custody.

Checks. Street controls are greatly restricted and are only allowed when the goal is to discover the perpetrator of a particularly serious crime or one that causes public alarm, not individuals who have committed an administrative violation as originally planned.

Frisking. For the first time, the law establishes guidelines for body searches, which may only be conducted when there is reason to suspect that it could prevent or clear up a crime. Only a police officer of the same sex may perform the search, and if the suspect is forced to partially undress, it will have to be done in a private area.

Accountability for protests. The new revised text frees march organizers from accountability for the actions of third parties who participate in the protest.

List of violations. This provision has been significantly modified: the 58 types of violations in the original draft have been reduced to 47.

Photographs of police officers. Using images or information relating to police officers may be a violation if it either endangers the officer’s personal safety or that of their family, or the success of an operation.

Protests in front of Congress. This was one of the most controversial points of the bill. Now, protesting in front of Congress, the Senate or a regional assembly will only be a serious offense when it severely affects citizen safety.

Prostitution. The original bill set fines for prostitutes and their clients found near schools or places where children gather. Now, only the clients will be fined.

Fines. The amounts of the fines remain unchanged. Very serious violations will incur penalties of €30,001 to €600,000, serious violators will receive fines of between €601 and €30,000, and minor violations will be punished with fines of €100 to €600. The Interior Ministry has introduced a new element: for serious and very serious violations, fines will be divided in three tranches representing minimum, medium and maximum penalties. The tranche a violator is assigned depends on the circumstances of the violation and on their personal finances.

Record of violators. The planned central register of violators of the Citizen Security Law is kept in place to keep tabs on repeat offenders.

Public notice of fines. Following the CGJP’s recommendations, there will be no public notice of penalties issued against repeat offenders.

Fining juveniles. The new bill establishes that minors found consuming or in possession of drugs may have their fine commuted for rehab treatment or re-education.

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