Dealing with the police and Courts
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. Apart from going to a police station, denuncias can be made by phone to 902 102 112 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.
- 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 minor crimes, deal with traffic control, civil disturbances, and bylaws, e.g. PRs on pavements or potentially dangerous dogs without leads or muzzles, or pavement obstacles, e.g. A-boards or cafe tables. Officers wear light blue uniforms and they are the ones who will call the gruas when you park illegally.
- 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 confined 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.
- Abogado (lawyer) – equivalent to a solicitor
- Procurador – equivalent to a barrister
- 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.