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During the Franco regime, military courts were competent to try a wide array of political crimes by civilians, including terrorist acts and offenses against military honor by the press. Martial law was invoked frequently, enabling military courts to prosecute civilians charged with participating in strikes, demonstrations, and subversive meetings. In accordance with the requirements of the new 1978 Constitution, an organic law passed in 1980 abolished the jurisdiction of military courts over civilians. In addition, common crimes committed by military personnel were to be tried in civil courts, and sentences imposed by military courts were subject to review by the Supreme Council of Military Justice and by the civil Supreme Court as the final court of appeal.

A completely new Military Penal Code was adopted in late 1985. The new code introduced safeguards comparable to those of the civil criminal system, including the appointment of defense counsel and a ban against degrading punishment. It distinguished between conduct of a criminal character that was subject to criminal justice and disciplinary infractions that were to be handled by the military commands. The new code reduced the jurisdiction of military courts in the area of political crimes, such as rebellion, and it placed limits on the defense of obedience to legal authority in connection with illegal or unconstitutional acts. The death penalty was abolished for all but certain crimes committed in wartime, and even in such cases the death penalty was not to be mandatory.

Data as of December 1988