civil rights

civil rights
   The constitution of 1978 defines Spain as a state under the rule of law, and subscribes to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It proclaims equality under the law and outlaws discrimination, forbids torture and capital punishment, and guarantees freedom of conscience, expression and association. Detained persons must be brought before a court within 72 hours or released, and must be informed of their right to silence and to legal representation. The effectiveness of these principles depends on the willingness of governments to implement them. In practice, the dramatic increase in crime, together with terrorist activity by ETA, has encouraged governments to prioritize effective policing over the protection of civil liberties. The anti-terrorist legislation introduced in 1977 permitted the detention of suspects for longer than 72 hours, and for years afterwards, there were allegations of ill-treatment, and even deaths, of suspects in custody. Furthermore, the government persistently condoned police brutality, once, in 1986, ordering Civil Guards facing charges of ill-treatment to ignore a court summons. In 1992, in an attempt to combat drug-related crime, the government introduced the Ley de Seguridad Ciudadana (Public Safety Law), which would have given the police powers, in certain circumstances, to enter private homes without a warrant.
   In the event, this law was declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Tribunal, but the degree to which the citizen can expect protection from the legal system is limited by two factors. One is that the independence of the judiciary, though enshrined in law, is less respected in Spain than in other countries with a longer democratic tradition. This was underlined when, in 1997, the Prime Minister, Aznar, appointed as Chief Prosecutor of the Audiencia Nacional (National Court) a barrister who had been disciplined by the Council of Prosecutors. The second limiting factor is the slowness of court procedure, which can mean that accused persons face long delays before their case comes to trial. In November 1995, the first thorough revision of the penal code since 1848 was enacted. It provided for suspended sentences, weekend imprisonment, and harsher penalties for corruption, and introduced the principle of diminished responsibility. The important safeguard of trial by jury, promised by the socialists since the 1980s, was not, however, implemented until May 1996, and could prove controversial in operation. In March 1997, a jury in Euskadi acquitted a member of ETA's youth wing of the murder of two policemen, on grounds of diminished responsibility. It was suggested in the press that the difficulty of ensuring the anonymity of juries in areas where intimidation by terrorist sympathizers is common may have influenced the verdict.
   See also: GAL; terrorism
   Further reading
   - Hooper, J. (1995) The New Spaniards, Harmondsworth: Penguin (chapter 16 gives a lucid account of the complexities of this issue).
   - Newton, M.T. with Donaghy, P.J. (1997) Institutions of Modern Spain, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (a standard work of reference).
   - Ross, C.J. (1997) Contemporary Spain: A Handbook, London and New York: Arnold (chapter 9 gives a clear and succinct summary of the administration of justice and its implications for civil rights).

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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