Life imprisonment returns, age of consent raised: keys to PP’s Penal Code.

Sex with an adult will be legal from 16 years, but marriage still allowed from 14 in Civil Code

MARIONA FERRER I FORNELLS Madrid

These are the most controversial points of the new Penal Code promoted by the PP, passed today in Congress and moving on to Senate for debate.

1. - "Reviewable permanent prison sentence", a euphemism for life imprisonment

One of the most controversial points in the reform is the so-called "reviewable permanent prison sentence", a new penalty that, in practice, means life imprisonment because it is designed for serious crimes and is reviewed only once 20 or 25 years have been served. It is a measure that was included in the PP’s electoral platform, and criticized by the Prosecutor’s office itself, which pointed out that the Spanish Penal Code is one of the harshest in Europe. Since 2010 effective sentences of up to 40 years without possible review have been possible -- in cases of terrorism, for example-- when very serious crimes are concerned. This measure, in practice, could be even harsher than life imprisonment.

2. Age of sexual consent: from 13 to 16 years

If in the end there is no last-minute change in the Senate, it will still be legal to marry in Spain at 14 years of age-- with parental consent, per the Civil Code--, but an adult can only maintain sexual relations with a minor legally if he or she is 16 years of age. The PP raised the age of sexual consent included in the Penal Code from 13 to 16 years, using the argument that this protects women and limits possible cases of pederasty. Sex with someone under 16 is regarded as sexual abuse --despite the consent of the adolescent-- and is punishable with a sentence of between two and six years in prison. Professionals warn that, beyond legal protection, sex education has been relegated to the background in this debate, and that it is the most effective measure against abuse.  The PP had said they were open to lowering the age of consent in the code from 16 to 15, but in the end they did not include this amendment.

3. - Suppression of misdemeanors: the administration takes control of the judiciary.

The government of Mariano Rajoy has wanted expressly to take powers away from the judiciary and give them to the general administration of the State. How? By dropping the set of misdemeanors included in the Penal Code and categorise them as administrative infractions --fines. Both NGOs and the opposition view this as an increase in state control that brings with it a rise in presumption of truthfulness, because, among other things, it assumes that all police reports are always truthful.

 4. - Punishment of peaceful resistance

Until now, only active resistance --for example attacking riot police-- had been considered a felony in the Penal Code. Now, passive resistance is regarded as assault and public disorder. Therefore, a simple act of self-protection when facing a riot policeman who brandishes a baton will be a crime.

5- Sentence (without incarceration) for illegal funding of a political party

The PP wants to classify the illegal funding of political parties as a crime, so as to punish, with sentences of one to five years in prison, those who receive illegal donations or participate in "structures and organizations" that have as their mission the illegal financing of political organizations. The fine print of the measure, however, says that the illegal donations from individuals to parties are only punishable if they are greater than 500,000 euros. There is an exception: there are prison sentences if illegal donations are received from governments or organizations for over 100,000 euros.

At the end of the legislative term

The government of Mariano Rajoy has decided to leave for the end of the legislative period a set of measures to intensify State security. After more than two years of debate, the Congress finally approved, at the end of 2014, the controversial public security law, also known as the "gag law". Today, Wednesday --almost a year and a half after the preliminary draft of the law was passed--, the reform of the Penal Code was approved. This is the second high-profile measure of former Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz Gallardón, after suffering the PP’s refusal to move forward with the abortion law.

Today, his successor Rafael Catalá, has ended up pushing the reform, in the hope that he can also finish the processing of the draft of the law of Criminal Procedure, which includes the provision allowing the Interior Ministry to tap any telephone without a court order. The short time remaining before the general elections in November, and the criticism of the measure from both the General Council of the Judiciary and the Prosecutor’s Office, however, could end up making the PP backtrack on the subject of phone taps.

A "repressive" law

In the Congressional debate today, the opposition unanimously denounced the measure, which they described as "repressive", "unnecessary", and "unjust" because it means "more limitations of rights and freedoms". They also criticized the "express" procedure used to approve it. This is the first time that all of the opposition has voted against a bill. The text was passed with 186 votes in favor, 144 against, and only one abstention. The PP systematically rejected, during the vote, all of the amendments presented by the opposition, and only accepted the judgment with pertinent corrections that was approved by the Justice Commission last week.

From the PSOE, deputy Julio Villarrubia denounced that "the PP wants to resolve with repression what they are not able to resolve with prevention". CiU MP Montse Surroca said that the new law "goes against the model of criminal justice", and ERC criticized that the government of Mariano Rajoy believes in "Charlie Hebdo" only from the Pyrenees northward. "Justice is not equal for all, and they are endorsing a right-wing Penal Code", lamented the deputy spokesman of Esquerra, Joan Tardà, from his bench. Gaspar Llamazares, of Esquerra Unida (United Left), said that the new Penal Code "is the negative image of the Constitution".

Express processing

The attack on the satirical magazine "Charlie Hebdo" set the parliamentary agenda in Madrid last week and relegated the debate of the Justice Congressional Commission on the amendments to the new Penal Code to the background --300 of the 900 amendments presented were approved or negotiated. But beyond harsher anti-terror measures and the introduction of the figure of the "lone wolf"--until now a terrorist was understood to be a member of an organization-- the PP’s new reform includes a series of very controversial measures that range from the legal age for sexual relations to the penalization of illegal financing of political parties, albeit with some caveats.

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