After all the restrictions and difficulties faced during the enforced lockdown due to Covid 19 many people are looking forward to a holiday in Europe.  Most people enjoy their dream holiday without incident, however, for some people, all too often the temptation to over indulge leads to the dream turning into a nightmare of arrest in a foreign country.

There are few things more disturbing than being arrested abroad, facing a language barrier, isolation, often with little or no knowledge of your rights.  It is not unheard of for a person to be arrested without understanding what offence they are alleged to have committed.  Giambrone & Partners' highly experienced criminal defence lawyers stress the critical importance of obtaining first-rate legal advice from English speaking lawyers at the earliest possible moment.  There is an obligation to provide legal assistance in the language of the person arrested but there is no guarantee that the duty lawyer will have a good enough command of English to assist you or explain the potential consequences to you.  Individuals are often frightened into signing documents drafted in a language that they cannot read without the benefit of any legal advice.

Drunkenness and drug use account for a large number of the arrests in European countries, also violent assault features highly on the list of reasons for arrest.  Whilst most people recognise that any type of violence has every chance of attracting serious consequences, the considerable variation in how drug offences are regarded across Europe is less well known.  Just because your home country is more lenient it should not be assumed that what you do at home is permitted everywhere.  Several countries in Europe have more than one police force that has competence in different criminal disciplines.  They wear different uniforms but all have the weight of the law behind them.  It is easy to envisage that individuals who are unaware of this, in heated moments, disregard the requests and demands from police officers that they do not recognise as being part of a police force, resulting in highly unwelcome consequences.

Some of the variations are as follows:

Italy, possession of drugs, regardless of the quantity, is a serious offence. Possession of drugs with intent to supply attracts a prison sentence of six to 20 years together with the potential for a fine of anywhere between €26,000 to €260,000.  There are different police forces working in different disciplines.

  • The Carabinieri are a special branch of the army mainly dealing with serious crime and criminal organisations. 
  • The Polizia di stato, the state police deal with such things as security on the roads and airports, amongst other things.
  • Vigili urbani, the Local police, deal with local traffic control and some minor crime
  • Guardia di finanza which is responsible for national and international financial crime including fraud, counterfeiting, tax evasion and smuggling.

Spain, on the other hand, the likely sentence for possession of drugs is two to six years and a discretionary fine.  Also there are several types of police forces in Spain,

  • The Guardia Civil or Civil Guard is the national police force and as such has a military status.
  • The Policía Nacional or Cuerpo Nacional de Policía (CPN)  (the National Police Corps, is the civilian police force and deals with criminal offences and public order offences in towns and cities.
  • The Municipal police specialise in crime prevention and minor crime such as traffic offences
  • The Special Administrative police are under  the Ministry of the Treasury and address contraband, illegal drugs and white-collar crime such as money laundering

If you are approached by any member of any of the police forces in Spain for any reason and you are deemed to be uncooperative you may be judged by the officer to be disobedient, which is a criminal offence that could result in arrest and a criminal charge as a completely separate issue to that related to whatever prompted the initial approach of the police officer. So a criminal record can be acquired just by being awkward.

Portugal has a different approach, however, there is no difference between types of drugs, no soft as opposed to hard drugs, they are all regarded the same. However, consumption, acquisition and possession of drugs in Portugal has been de-criminalised since November 2001.  That does not mean that there are no penalties, it is punishable by law but not through the criminal court system, it is now a social administrative offence. Drug addicts are seen as in need of medical assistance for their own sake and the protection of others.

Giambrone & Partners' criminal lawyers are experts in their field and will help you navigate the various procedures you face.

Vincenzo Senatore, a partner, commented "an individual's conduct when arrested and when detained can make a significant difference to the outcome. Also, if you do find yourself arrested in Europe and you have been allowed to return home this does not mean it is the end of the matter and it is imperative that you do nothing, by your own actions, which will make matters worse." Vincenzo further pointed out "if you receive a summons to court after you have returned home, do not ignore it.  Despite Britain's exit from the EU European arrest warrants are still enforceable."

Our criminal defence lawyers are well respected and have a track record of alleviating difficult situations.  There have been several cases where the British defendant has no plausible defence for the offence they have been charged with, however, our lawyers have presented extenuating circumstances in which the mitigating factors have resulted in non-custodial sentences and our clients have been permitted to return home having avoided the predicted custodial sentences.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.