The legal system in Tenerife often mystifies people, with various police forces, the word denuncia used frequently with an aura of fear and mystery, and the Courts ….. well, we all know they take forever to deal with cases, don’t we, but how many Courts are there? Come to that, how many police forces are there?! Hopefully this page will give some clarity and perspective, and straightforward information, and hopefully too, no-one who reads it will ever need to make use of the information in it!

To start at the beginning, let’s assume you need to report a crime. It’s important to know that this is a legal obligation if you see a crime being carried out unless you are family member of the person committing it, but of course, you might actually be the victim yourself. You can report a crime in one of two ways: a denuncia, or the alternative, a querella.

  • Denuncias are straightforward to issue and do not require a lawyer to be involved. You can even make a denuncia against a “person unknown”, so you don’t even have to name the offender. What you do have to do, though, is give your own details, which will appear on the denuncia itself, so the person you’re complaining about will see who made the report. What often confuses people is that there are various types of denuncia and it will depend on the type of report you want to make: for crimes, it will be the police, but denuncias can also be made to the consumer authorities, for example. Anyone can issue a denuncia, but if it is a private, rather than a criminal offence, it will only be investigated if it has been reported by the victim him/herself. Be aware, too, that anyone making a false denuncia can be prosecuted themselves. To start, denuncias can be made by phone to 902 102 112 (Madrid) in many (though not all) cases, and can be made in English if you prefer; you will be given a reference number to take to the police station.Telephone denuncias can be made for theft and burglary cases, but if the perpetrator is known, victims should go direct to a police station to make the complaint. Crimes requesting an urgent police response (other than an emergency, for which ring 112) or those involving crimes against persons should be reported at a police station.Where a telephone denuncia has been made, victims have 48 hours to ratify the report and sign it as correct at the police station or their choice. Please see HERE for more information in English.
  • A querella must be completed by a lawyer and made in front of a judge, and is, essentially, the initiation of a criminal investigation. Querellas can only be lodged by the victim him/herself if a foreigner in Spain, though Spanish nationals can do so even if not personally involved. The judge who takes the querella will give an preliminary judgement about whether criminal procedures should be initiated or not, and if the querellante (the person who makes the querella) is refused at this point, s/he can appeal the decision.

When it comes to the police, there are four forces in the Canaries: the Guardia Civil, National Police, Canarian Police, and Local Police.

  • The Guardia Civil was originally a military police force under the dictatorship. Officers wear green uniforms and have wide-ranging policing duties including customs, ports and airports, illegal immigration, terrorism, environmental protection, drugs, arms and explosives, and they are the main police force too in small rural areas. Mostly we come across them as traffic police, because Trafico is a Guardia Civil department. If you need to contact them, you can phone 062.
  • The Policía Nacional deal with national issues, including terrorism and immigration, which is why it is they who issue NIEs and Certificados de Registro, but their primary responsibility is for criminal matters. They are, therefore, the police to call if you have seen or been a victim of a crime. Officers wear wear dark blue uniforms and if you need to contact them, you can phone 091.
  • The Policía Local are provided by local Ayuntamientos in larger towns. They police traffic congestion and illegal parking, civil disturbances, and bylaws, so for example it will be they who deal with touts on pavements or potentially dangerous dogs without leads or muzzles, or pavement obstacles. Officers wear light blue uniforms and their phone numbers vary municipality to municipality.
  • The Policía Canaria is a relevatively recently instituted force and has been the subject of much muttering about being a political statement on the part of the Canarian Government rather than a necessary police force. At times, it is hard to know what exactly their responsibilities are, but they seem to be envisaged as an information provision service, dog catchers, and crime prevention. Officers are highly visible with their grey and pink uniforms, but are actually invisible when they have what is perhaps their greatest impact on foreigners: they have the additional duty of policing tourism legislation, and in this respect, they have been behind some of the internet trawling to screengrab adverts for illegal holiday lets.

In addition to the police, there is a public service called Protección Civil, whose organization, functioning and running is co-ordinated by Ayuntamientos, Cabildos and the Canarian Government. It is staffed by volunteers and is often used to assist the police in emergency situations like fires or floods, or at large public events.

Some matters cannot be restricted to the police, of course, and require legal assistance and maybe legal action. There are various levels of Courts in Tenerife and Spain, and various types of legal professionals involved in it. Below is a list of the more prominent. Do bear in mind that if you should ever find yourself in this situation, there is the possibility that you will be entitled to legal aid: your circumstances will be assessed under the terms of the Legal Aid Law HERE. Anyone can apply for Legal aid, whether resident or not, and if you cannot demonstrate your financial circumstances, you can self-declare: if you are later found not to be entitled, you will have to repay any costs incurred.

 Legal professionals:

  • Abogado (lawyer) – equivalent to a solicitor but who can also appear in court like a barrister
  • Procurador – required as an intermediary – similar to a Clerk – in court in some cases in addition to an abogado
  • Notario – a legally-qualified independent public officer who officially registers and records public documents
  • Fiscal – public prosecutor
  • Constitutional Court – judges cases concerned with laws that in conflict with the Spanish Constitution. Anyone can have a final appeal to the Constitutional Court when they feel their civil rights have been violated.
  • Supreme Court (Tribunal Supremo) – highest Court in Spain with five separate chambers for civil, criminal, social, military and administrative cases.  It hears appeals of sentences from the National or Regional High Courts.
  • National Court (Audiencia Nacional) – has chambers for criminal and administrative cases, and one for and cases concerning minors.The National Court also has two specialist chambers: the Central Examining Court (Juzgados Centrales de Instrucción) which investigates cases for trial in the National Court or the other specialist chamber, the Central Criminal Court (Juzgados Centrales de lo Penal), which tries crimes with sentences of under 5 years imprisonment.
  • Regional High Courts (Tribunal Superior de Justicia de las Comunidades Autónomas – usually abbreviated to TSJC) – these are the highest Courts in the autonomous regions of Spain, including the Canaries, and have chambers for civil, criminal, administrative and labour cases.
  • Provincial Court (Audiencia Provincial) – hears civil and criminal cases in Tenerife for the western Canary islands, and in Gran Canaria for the eastern province.
  • Criminal Court (Juzgados de lo Penal) – hears cases which have already been investigated by the Court of the First Instance with sentences of under 5 years imprisonment.
  • Court of the First Instance (Juzgados de Primera Instancia) – hears civil cases.
  • Examining Courts (Juzgados de Instrucción) – hears misdemeanours, and investigates and prepares cases for the Provincial and Criminal Courts.
  • Justice of the Peace (Juzgados de Paz) – minor civil cases where there are no Courts of the First Instance or Examining Courts.


This article has 44 Comments

  1. I have been scam by a company for future holidays is there a system of reporting such action in Tenerife?

    Please advice

  2. There are local consumer authorities – (OMIC: see HERE) or, if you think criminal fraud is involved then you should report it to the National Police; in either case you might feel that you would be best served by consulting a qualified lawyer on how best to proceed.

  3. Hi Janet do you know if it possible to plead guilty by post for a drink driving offence or do you have to appear in person, the offence happened two years ago to a friend from the uk who now works in Cape Verde so you can understand the predicament because I live in the canaries and the offence happened in lanzarote he has asked for my help.

  4. I’m sorry, Roger, I really have no idea. The only thing I can suggest is if you go to a main police station here and ask for advice on his behalf. Apologies.

  5. Hello
    First and foremost I do have to say Janet that I find your site boith informative and very helpul so thank you for all that I have learnt from you.
    A quick question if I may regarding denuncias. I just wanted to know if it is possible or even ever carried out that a property owner would issue a denuncias administrativas against the management company in a resort/community. Basically the management company we pay for has failed to act upon numerous problems, particularly re building extensions etc being allowed tobe errected against regulations as laid out in the community rules and simply refuses to be held accountable and/or even reply to other owners questions and requests.
    In such a scenario would I be within my rights to challenge them by stating I may issue such an administrative complaint. Is this the (a) correct procedure?
    Thak you

  6. Hi Gabe, I’m not sure whether you mean management company or administrators. If the latter, then the correct way to approach it is through a community meeting in which you try to get a new administrator appointed. If a sole agent for letting, then that is a matter of simple arithmetic: if they have enough owners on their books to make them the legal sole agent, then they can’t be dislodged unless another agent manages to get the majority on his own books. So in either case, really, a denuncia isn’t the technically correct approach, but having said that, anyone can issue a denuncia at any point. An alternative, with a sole agent, would be to ask for the complaints book and go that route. But if you mean community administrators, that’s done through the community at an AGM or EGM.

  7. Me and my partner were involved in a domestic my partner was arrested and charged even tho I did not press charges he was given a restraining order against not seeing me I suffer from depression and also have my disabled mother with me and I am really struggling to cope is there anyway I can apeal against the decsion of the restraining order I still have 14 days of my holiday left I also need his support for travelling home which I have been told he cant.

  8. I also forgot to mention I also have two young kids as well as my disabeled mother I cant cope on my own and would like to know if theres anythin that can be done to get the restraining order removed, if it wasnt for me coming on holiday with my partner I wouldnt be here without him

  9. If a restraining order (orden de alejamiento) has been imposed, it will have been issued by the Court, and only the Court would be able to lift it. If you wanted it removed, you would need to contact whoever or whatever agency was involved in helping you in the initial proceedings and try to get the matter back into Court.

  10. Thankyou very much so it would need to be the court I got in touch with to try n resolve it?

  11. Yes because the Court imposed it, and only the Court can lift it. That’s not to say they will lift it, but it’s where you need to request it.

  12. Hi Janet , whilst this thread is on , In February this year I caught a burglar on my Terrace , he assaulted me and was subsequently taken by police and charged – He plead guilty in court and received a suspended sentence, fined and was ordered to pay me and another community member several hundred Euros for the assault .
    He was allowed to pay this up to the court and I was told to enquire later if the payment was completed . He is employed as far as I know locally in a PDLA hotel so should have the means to pay.
    Can you advise who I should contact about this – the police or the court (in Arona ) ?
    I fully expect the guy to clear off the Island as he has a Facebook page and Chefs all over the mainland and Islands seasonally !
    Thanks in advance for any help !

  13. Hi John, go back to the court. I’m afraid it’s far from an uncommon situation where someone gets a court order but has to return to court to enforce it. The court will tell you what the situation is, and what you can do to take any further action required.

  14. My business partner has locked me out of our bar by changing the locks after a dispute, he continues to run the bar using money I have guaranteed with the bank.

    Can I denounce him, I have sent a letter of complaint to him through solicitors, however he is not responding.The lawyer says I have to go to Notary to prove I am 50 percent owner even though it states this on the CB partnership. Do I need to do that as it is adding extra costs to this situation.

  15. I think you really have to accept your lawyer’s advice on this, s/he is the qualified professional. I can’t suggest any different, I’m afraid.

  16. Hello sir,i would like to ask how to check the denuncia that somebody report to us is real not false, can somebody make denuncia for reporting drugs dealer

  17. A person can denounce anything, though as I say above, it is a crime to make a false denuncia. The person being denounced will receive official notice – if they haven’t, then as with anything, they should ask for evidence and not just accept someone’s word.

  18. Hi Janet,
    I have been ordered by the spanish court to pay someone and I have been given a 3 year suspended sentence. I live in the UK and I do not have the money to pay him. The court case is now closed however will I be stopped at the airport and arrested for not making payments?
    Many thanks.

  19. I don’t know, I’m afraid. Under normal circumstances, I would not think you would be stopped or arrested, and would expect the person you have to pay would to need to take you back to court to get the money. A suspended prison sentence, however, could make a difference. This is something you should seek official confirmation of, and I advise you to check with the consulate.

  20. Hello.
    8 years ago being stupid and drunk, I got into a fight and ended up in a police cell over night. I was let out the next day and spent 5 days in Tenerife before returning to the UK. Before I left I hand delivered a letter to the court saying how I was going home and I was sorry for my actions. I gave my address too. I have not heard anything since, I have visited main land Spain once and Malloca once too and not been stopped at the airport etc. I am going to Tenerife later this year and am.worried I will be stopped for a potential old fine/charge I am unaware of.

    Please help! Many thanks.

  21. If you left contact details and have heard nothing, I imagine that there is no outstanding issue, but this is something you need to check officially, and so I recommend you contact the consulate and ask them what your situation is, and what if anything, you would be best advised to do pro-actively.

  22. Thank you! I have emailed the consulate so hopefully I will hear back from them before I travel. I am petrified that I am going to get stopped at passport control and arrested in front of my partner and son. Many thanks once again.

  23. Hi Janet, my son and his wife were in Tenerife 2 years ago for there honeymoon, they were at a club at night time and my sons wife felt unwell they are both in there late twenties at the time as she left the club my son went to get something and when he left a minuet or so later he saw his wife getting punched by some guy so he ran over and punched the man, he wasn’t wearing any uniform but other police arrived all out of uniform.
    That took them separately a trip around the mountains in the back of there police cars when the police station was just five minuets walk away.
    they were in court with no English being spoken and they were were fined and had to pay the fine before they were given there passports back, now a letter has come and they have to go to the local police station to collect it, can they try to deport them for another trial do they need to collect the letter.
    best regards
    Jim Kennedy

  24. I’m sorry Jim, but this sort of question needs an answer and advice from official bodies, not me. You need to speak to the Consulate in the first instance – their details are at the top of the Resources page.

  25. Hi there, I was charged in tenerife withave domestic violence even though it was a big family brawl. I was trying to stop fighting and got hit in the nose and got knocked over. After days of being in the cells. We were all taken to court and charged. We were all separated and all had restraining orders. Anyway the translater was not very good. I could only make out 2 years and she said something of 3 years. I am unsure because all the paper work was in Spanish. All I do know is if I didn’t plead guilty would need to return the following week and I was due home then. I couldn’t stay any longer as needed to find accommodation and I was due back at work. I really feel I had a major raw deal and was caught between a catch 22. As I say I have never been convicted of anything before not even a caution. How long will this be on my UK record? As they told me it wouldn’t be.

  26. I’m sorry but I don’t know. You will need to speak to the British Consulate, and you’ll find their details at the top of the Resources page.

  27. Hello

    In April his year myself and friends were arrested in Tenerife and miss treated, can u give me some advice on what to do about it?

    The outcome, we are barred from the whole of Spain, do u have a number to contact regarding appealing this?? Or even verifying this with paperwork..

    Hope u Can help


  28. You will need to speak to the British Consulate for this sort of query. Their contact details are at the top of the Resources page.

  29. Last year my other half had a breakdown .Got arrested hit a policeman. .My other half was ill for 6 months. He came back home very ill. ,,
    He went back to Tenerife yesterday as our house was burgled there .When he got to the airport he was arrested. They let him out this afternoon, and no date for court. . He needs to come home as I know he’s on meltdown again.advice appreciated

  30. I had a number of malicious denuncias issued against me and only told about them by the police a few days before the court date at which my lawyer(one i procured in a hurry) offered no defence and i was not allowed to say anything in my defence i fired him and got a new one but this one now says that i cannnot appeal the case only the severity of sentence surely this cannot be as i never had a chance to offer my defence

  31. I’m afraid that I’m not qualified to advise on this, and would recommend that you speak to the consulate in the first instance in case there is anything they can offer help with, or at least advise about. I would also speak to your lawyer about whether it’s possible for you to issue a denuncia of your own, because malicious denuncia is a crime here.

  32. Hi Janet, I & another person lent €200 from me & €250 from him to a so called friend in April & he wont pay it back, I gave him 14 days ending on the 12th of December & then said it will go to small claims court. We have all the evidence on file from FB messenger.

    Can I ask for your advice on the following, can we do a joint action ? should we denounce him as well ? & any other advice in how we do this. Tia.

  33. Hi Janet , just as an update to an earlier post/question I asked – I was awarded compensation for assault from burglar in February – I was expecting the guy to abscond & not pay -surprise , 2 weeks ago I got a phone call from Juzgado (court) to check out my address & name ,followed by a letter to visit Justice of Peace office in Adeje where I was given a form to cash in at Santander Bank & collect my money ! (The JP only speaks Spanish )
    Waited 30 mins in Santander only to be told notification wasn´t through for payment ! I will go back next week!
    Grrr ! Spanish Bureaucracy gets you in the end . LOL!
    At least the Justice system works !

  34. That’s fantastic , John! Thank you for the update, and a nice time of year to get good news like that!

  35. Hi I made a denuncia against Spanish police in Dec 16.i was physically and excessively restrained naked in my hotel room because they say my portable tv was to loud.i was left with physical injuries documented by the local hospital.i was not arrested or charged.
    How do I take this further.

  36. Hi! Thanks for a very informative post!

    I was arrested for shoplifting 1.5 week ago, but was not detained. I got no documents with me when I left. But I left an adress in Andalucia where they can contact me about possible courtorder etc.
    But I can’t stay here forever and just wait for a letter that might never come.
    What happens if I leave spain and cant recieve any information?

  37. Hi Janet

    Could you please tell me where the nearest Traffico Office is ? I need to go and live in Adeje ?

    Thank You

  38. I got stopped and seacrched in Santa Cruz on the bases ” i was walking around on my own and talking to tourist” because i look like “un Moro” – I complied with every personal questioned answered and was finally allowed to carry on my way with a final comment from main officer “Just remember we are here, watching”. The whole thing leaves a bitter taste specially when the advise is not to argue with the Spanish police in case of reprisals.
    (three under-cover police officers) The stop and search obviously based on racial profiling.
    The question is simple ; who do I write to ?

  39. In general I would speak to the Consulate, but “who do I write to” is not easy to answer without knowing what you want to achieve.

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