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This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/in-prison-abroad/in-prison-abroad-transfer-to-a-uk-prison
Who can transfer
To transfer, you must:
- be a British citizen or have close family ties with the UK (normally through permanent residence in the UK)
- not be awaiting trial
- have exhausted all appeals against your conviction and/or the length of your sentence
- have at least 6 months of your sentence left to serve when you apply for transfer
- have no outstanding fines or other non-custodial penaltiess
The offence you were convicted for must also be a criminal offence in the part of the UK you wish to be transferred to: England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. There must be a transfer agreement between the UK and the country where you are imprisoned. See country-specific information for prisoners and their families.
If you are a British citizen, and the sentencing State agrees to your transfer then the UK authorities will normally approve your request. However, the UK authorities may refuse your request if, for example, you have not lived in the UK for a number of years, and you have no close family resident here. The authorities in the sentencing country can also refuse. Other conditions may apply, depending on the specific transfer arrangements with each country.
Benefits of transferring
If you transfer, you will:
- serve the rest of your sentence closer to your family and friends
- be in an English-speaking country
- be able to take courses and prepare for release in the UK
Applying for a transfer
You should normally apply through the prison authorities where you are detained. Prison authorities should give you information about applying, if you are in a country where transfers are possible and you have been sentenced.
You can also write to the nearest British consulate, who will pass on your letter to the UK authorities. The UK authorities will then make an application to the foreign authorities on your behalf.
If you are normally resident in the UK or are subject to a deportation or removal order from the country in which you are held, the authorities of that country may request your transfer without your consent. If such a transfer is sought you should be given an opportunity to make representations against transfer before transfer takes place.
Approving your transfer
You have no automatic right to transfer.
If the authorities in the country where you are imprisoned agree in principle to your transfer, they will forward information about you to the UK authorities, including:
- details of the offence(s)
- length and nature of the sentence
If the UK authorities agree to the transfer, they will tell the foreign authority and explain how they will continue to enforce your original sentence.
The length of time it takes to complete a transfer varies. In some countries, it can take more than 2 years. We will do everything we can to process your request as quickly as possible.
There is no statutory right of appeal against a rejected transfer request.
Liability for prosecution
You cannot be re-prosecuted in the UK for the offence for which you are sentenced. You will, however, be liable to detention or prosecution in connection with any other alleged offence committed in the UK.
If transfer takes place under an agreement which does not require your consent to transfer then you will normally be protected from prosecution for offences committed prior to your transfer until certain conditions are met. If you face further charges in the UK you should seek confirmation of your position before transfer takes place
You will serve the sentence imposed on you by the foreign court. The UK authorities cannot increase the sentence. Nor can they reduce your sentence to one which might have been given in the UK.
Once transferred the amount on your sentence remaining at point of transfer will be treated as if it was a sentence imposed in the UK and the release provisions in the part of the UK to which you transfer will apply to your sentence. This will not change the length of your sentence, but may alter the time you spend in custody pursuant to that sentence.
In some cases (where the maximum sentence in the UK is less than your sentence) your sentence will be reduced to the maximum.
You need to be aware as to whether the transfer agreement requires your consent. The UK authorities will give you detailed estimates about your release dates in the UK before you agree to a transfer. It is your responsibility to ensure you understand the consequences of transfer before you give your consent.
Consent to transfer
In most cases, you will be asked to agree to transfer. You should make sure you understand the consequences of your transfer, including how your original sentence will be enforced in the UK, before you give your consent. If you are unsure, you should ask for clarification.
The UK is a party to a number of agreements which enable a prisoner to be transferred to the prisoner’s country of nationality or permanent residence without that person’s consent, providing both governments involved agree. Although in these circumstances your consent to transfer is not required you must be given an opportunity to make representations against transfer. This can be given either orally or in writing depending on the law of the country in which you are held.
Paying for your transfer
With most prisoner transfer agreements, you are required to pay your own airfare. You will be asked to sign an agreement to repay the cost after you arrive in the UK. The UK authorities will keep your passport and you will not be able to apply for a new one until you repay.
If you do not have a passport, you may need to pay for an emergency travel document.
The UK and foreign government will pay most of the other transfer costs.
You will not be required to make any payment if you are being transferred without your consent.
Appealing your conviction
The UK courts have no jurisdiction to review either your conviction or your sentence. This remains a matter for the courts in the country in which you were sentenced.
Whether you return to the UK as a serving prisoner, or at the end of your sentence, you have a criminal record. The law requires that in certain circumstances you must disclose your previous criminal convictions. This includes convictions imposed abroad as well as those imposed in the UK. Failure to fully disclose your criminal convictions when required by law is a criminal offence.
If you are arrested for certain serious offences, such as child sex abuse or drugs crimes, Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) staff must tell other relevant UK authorities.
Leaving the EU
British prisoners in the EU are currently able to apply to transfer to a UK prison under a process called the EU Prisoner Transfer agreement.
If the UK leaves the EU with a deal there will be no change and transfers will continue under the EU Prisoner Transfer Framework Decision throughout the Implementation Period until December 2020.
If the UK leaves the EU without a deal on 29 March 2019, this process will end. However, you will instead be able to apply to transfer to a UK prison under a process called the Council of Europe Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons and its Additional Protocol.
You should speak to local prison authorities or consider getting legal advice if you are in the process of applying to transfer to a UK prison from the EU or are planning to apply.
What you need to do
If you have transferred by 29 March 2019
If you (or someone on your behalf) has applied for a transfer to a UK prison and it is completed before 29 March 2019, you will not be affected by this change. You will complete your sentence in a UK prison and the terms of your transfer will continue to apply.
If you have not transferred by 29 March 2019
If you have submitted a request for transfer to the UK but the transfer isn’t complete by 29 March 2019, your application will stop. You will need to submit a new application under the Council of Europe Convention process. Contact the local prison authorities of the country you are imprisoned in to resubmit your request (ask your prison for details). You can also speak to the British consulate in the country you are imprisoned in to get advice.
Further information about transfers
You can ask either the prison authorities where you are serving your sentence or your nearest British consul.
You can also write to the relevant UK authorities:
England and Wales
Cross Border Transfer Section
HM Prison and Probation Service
Post Point 1.22
Northern Ireland Prison Service
Operational Management Division
Upper Newtownards Road
Belfast, BT4 3SU
Telephone: 028 9052 5065 (General Enquiries)
Scottish Prison Service Headquarters
Edinburgh, EH12 9HW
Telephone: 0131 244 8745
Prisoners Abroad is a UK charity. It can provide:
- limited financial assistance
- vitamins in certain situations
- reading material
- support for families
Prisoners Abroad works with the FCO to help British citizens held in prisons overseas. They will keep in touch with you and your family throughout your sentence, and can assist after your release if you are not transferred to a UK prison. They can also advise you on the transfer process and have a detailed factsheet on the subject.
Their address is:
89 - 93 Fonthill Road
London N4 3JH
Tel: 020 7561 6820
You will not be entitled to Prisoners Abroad’s support (financial or otherwise) if you have transferred back to the UK to serve the remainder of your sentence. Nor will Prisoners Abroad be able to assist after your release from a UK prison
We welcome your views on the support we provide. They will help us to identify what we do well and what we could do better. Please contact us with any feedback at:
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
King Charles Street
Tel: +44 (0)20 7008 1500
The information on this page is a brief introduction to transfers from prisons abroad. It is not a statement of your legal rights.