News story

British travellers urged to avoid taking risks with the law

New figures reveal the number of British nationals arrested overseas has risen by 6% in the past year.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Between April 2011 and March 2012, the Foreign Office (FCO) handled 6,015 arrest cases involving British nationals - up from 5,700 in the previous year. Drug arrests have also increased by 2% with the FCO handling 816 cases over the same period.

Minister of State for Consular Affairs, Jeremy Browne, said:

“It is important that people understand that taking risks abroad can land them on the wrong side of the law. The punishments can be very severe, with tougher prison conditions than in the UK. Whilst we will work hard to try and ensure the safety of British nationals abroad, we cannot interfere in another country’s legal system.

“We find that many people are shocked to discover that the FCO cannot get them out of jail. We always provide Consular support to British nationals in difficulty overseas. However, having a British passport does not make you immune to foreign laws and will not get you special treatment in prison.”

The statistics, released in advance of the full British Behaviour Abroad report next month, show that:

  • Spain and the USA continue to show the highest cases of arrests with Spain showing a 9% increase on last year
  • Anecdotal evidence from Embassies and Consulates overseas suggests many incidents are alcohol-fuelled, particularly in popular holiday destinations such as the Canary Islands, mainland Spain, Balearics, Malta and Cyprus.

The FCO is today encouraging Brits - particularly young holidaymakers about to embark on summer holidays, to consider the consequences of running into trouble with the law whilst overseas this summer. In the past year, around half of total arrest cases involved people under the age of 34.

Whilst Spain and the USA show the highest number of drug-related cases, drugs continue to be a significant problem in countries including Jamaica, Serbia, Peru and Brazil where over 70% of total arrests were drug related.

Consular staff across the globe spend 35% of their time handling cases of British nationals detained or imprisoned abroad and many report that Brits often have unrealistic expectations of what the FCO can do for them.

David Thomas, Consular Regional Director covering Spain, based in Madrid, said:

“The police on Mallorca and Ibiza have a zero tolerance attitude towards alcohol-fuelled offences and we see many young people being arrested for causing trouble outside bars and clubs at night.

“All too often they think they’ll spend the night in a cell sleeping off their hangover before being let out in the morning. They soon sober up when they realise their British passport does not grant them immunity and they’re alone in a foreign prison cell, unsure of when they’ll be released and unable to speak to officers because they don’t speak the language.

“It’s particularly sad to see younger people throwing away years of their lives, often as a result of a risky decision made in the heat of the moment and after a few too many drinks. Not only can you end up with a criminal record but the effects on your family can be devastating.”

Those heading overseas are being encouraged to research the laws and customs of the country they’re visiting by checking out FCO travel advice in advance.

Updates to this page

Published 27 June 2012