Guidance

Information for bereaved families Spain; Murder, manslaughter or suspicious deaths

Information and advice if a friend or family member has been a victim of murder, manslaughter or has died in suspicious circumstances in Spain.

This information is to help you understand what you need to do if a British national has been a victim of murder or manslaughter or has died in suspicious circumstances in Spain and you are the next of kin.

You should also read the guidance available on what you need to do if you are bereaved through murder or manslaughter abroad, and what support the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) can provide.

Identification

Identification is normally carried out by the police or a forensic doctor, although occasionally next of kin may be asked to help with identification. If identification is not straightforward, a Judge may order DNA testing and/or may request information from police abroad or in the UK. This process could take a few months.

Post-Mortem (autopsies)

Post-mortems are conducted for all murder or manslaughter cases. The deceased will usually be released upon completion of the post-mortem, but this may take longer if there is a criminal case to be brought against someone.

If you would like a copy of the post-mortem reports, you will need to make the request through a lawyer. The release of any information can take many months, and the documents will be issued in Spanish.

The Judge may not authorise burial or cremation until the final post-mortem reports are issued and all the results from the tests have been obtained; the Judge might authorise burial and not cremation if the parties do not agree with the medical reports. This is in case there is a need for further testing at a later date. If the deceased is located in a different jurisdiction to where the investigation commenced (e.g. in the case of a missing person), release of the deceased can be delayed as it may involve more than one State or Judge.

Organ retention

During a post-mortem, small tissue samples and organs can be removed at the discretion of the forensic doctor and retained for testing, without the consent of next of kin. Organs are normally destroyed once tests are completed. A judge may authorise for the deceased to be buried or cremated in Spain or returned to the UK before tests on organs are completed.

You are advised to appoint a lawyer to help facilitate the return of any organs. When we are aware that organs have been removed we will inform you. However, we are not always informed by the Spanish authorities. Please contact the British Embassy or Consulate about what other assistance can be provided.

Repatriation

According to Spanish national law, the deceased must either be (i) retained in a mortuary or somewhere similar such as a forensic institute storage or (ii) embalmed by a funeral director within 48 hours of death. Embalming is a national legal requirement for transfer of remains out of Spanish territory. Sometimes local embalming methods mean that the full range of tests cannot be done if a second post mortem is requested.

Embalming procedures may have an impact on the efficacy of any subsequent post mortems (for example, if one is ordered by a Coroner in England or Wales). Unless a body is repatriated to England or Wales, a coroner will not be able to conduct an inquest. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, inquests will not be held even if a body is repatriated to the UK. Local formalities for repatriation normally take between 8 to 10 days to complete. If the State Prosecutor decides to prosecute someone, this can delay the release of the deceased.

Burial/Cremation

Local burial or cremation can be expensive and you should speak to a local funeral director for further advice.

  • Local burial: If you choose to proceed with a local burial, you will need to instruct a local funeral director. Please note that in Spain ‘burial’ often means an above-ground niche. Rights to a niche are normally held for only five years, unless specifically purchased in perpetuity. We advise you to seek further information on these procedures from the local funeral director. After five years the remains are transferred to a common grave, unless you contact the cemetery before the 5 years are completed and make alternative arrangements.

  • Local cremation: Cremation is common practice in Spain and there are modern, well equipped crematoria. If you choose local cremation and wish to take the ashes back to the UK this is easy to arrange. Local funeral directors will be able to advise and arrange the necessary paperwork and transportation.

Police Investigations

Access to information concerning a death is restricted. The police will never release a report, although the judge dealing with the case would be able to access the information. You would have to appoint a local lawyer to have any access to the case file. The Spanish authorities will not provide this information directly to you, or to third parties including consular officials. In some special cases investigations might have secrecy orders, in these cases no information or documents will be provided until the order is lifted by the Judge.

If you feel the death is suspicious, but is not being investigated as such, you are advised to appoint a local lawyer who can advise you on the best way forward. Timeframes for police investigations vary and can take from a few months to four years or more to be completed. If no-one is arrested, and court case is filed, the police case file usually remains open but dormant.

Judicial Process

Timeframes for court hearings or trials can vary and may last several years. You are not required to become a formal party to the case and the court will inform you of your rights, for example, whether you wish to prosecute or claim any compensation if the perpetrator is arrested and found guilty. We recommend that you appoint a local lawyer who can advise on the judicial proceedings, represent your interests in court and seek updates and information on your behalf. Whilst consular officials can enquire about the progress or status of the proceedings (for example hearing dates) we do not have access to the case file nor detailed information about the trial.

Other useful information

  • There are local support organisations available. There are English speaking Samaritans in some parts of Spain, although not in the Canaries. Some Legal Aid and local compensation schemes may be available but please consult consular officials for further information.

Neither the British Embassy nor HM Government accept legal liability with regards to the content of this information sheet.

Published 12 April 2017