THE SUPREME COURT has ratified the decisions of lower tribunals to reduce the prison sentences of some convicted sex offenders after the Spanish government’s so-called ‘only yes means yes’ consent law came into force.
The decision is not just a blow for the Equality Ministry, which drafted the law, but also the public prosecutor, which had argued that the sentence reductions should not be automatically applied.
The decision comes after the justices on the court spent two days considering the cases that had been appealed. The judges examined a total of 29 cases, and ruled unanimously on 27 of them, according to news agency Europa Press.
According to the latest figures from Spain’s CGPJ legal watchdog, as of May 1 a total of 2,301 sentences for sex offenders had been revised by the courts using the new law. Of these, there have been 1,079 sentence reductions and 108 convicts released from custody early.
The ‘Full Guarantee of Sexual Freedom Act’ was drawn up by the Equality Ministry – which is run by leftist Unidas Podemos, the junior partner in Spain’s coalition government – in the wake of the infamous rape case at the 2016 Running of the Bulls fiesta in Pamplona.
Under the new law, consent must be given and cannot be assumed to have been given either by default or with silence. The legislation also removes the distinction between sexual abuse and sexual assault – i.e. rape – by making consent the deciding factor.
But after the law came into force in early October, it emerged that the legislation was being used to seek sentence reductions.
The problems arose due to the change in definition of offences, and their associated minimum and maximum prison sentences in the case of a conviction.
Minimum sentences were lowered, in general, in the absence of aggravating circumstances. The changes led to a flood of requests by lawyers in the courts for their clients’ sentences to be reviewed.
Under Spanish law, any change to the minimum sentence for an offence can be applied retroactively, and judges usually rule in favour of the convict in such cases.
That means that where the minimum sentence for a sexual offence has been reduced, a person serving time for the same offence can expect to spend fewer years in prison or even be released on time served.
Despite the controversy, which has caused huge political damage not just for the Equality Ministry but also senior coalition partner the Socialist Party, leftist Unidas Podemos insisted that there was nothing wrong with the law and that instead it was being incorrectly applied by judges.
In a tweet on Wednesday, Equality Minister Irene Montero said: “The Supreme Court has rejected the unanimous criteria of the public prosecutor […]. This is bad news.”