What To Do If You Are Arrested While Holidaying
If the worst happens and you are arrested and detained in prison abroad, stay calm, cooperate with the authorities, and don't lose your temper!
Who Should I Contact First?The first thing that anyone arrested abroad should do is contact the British Consul. Explain what's happened - and give them as much detail as you possibly can about the incident that led to the arrest, where you've been taken, where you were staying, if there were any witnesses, and whether you've spoken to a legal representative.
There is a piece of law which most countries have signed up to, called the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, which states that you are within your rights to ask for the arresting authorities to contact the consul if you, or someone in your party hasn't done so, and gives you the right to send and receive messages from them.
There's also an organisation called Prisoners Abroad, set up to champion the rights of Britons in prison abroad.
An official will usually visit you in prison, or wherever you're being held, and can give you more advice on what to do in your particular situation. They can give you contact details of appropriate lawyers, and contact family or friends back home is you ask them to.
What The Consulate Cannot DoThe Consulate won't pay for your legal representation, fund any bail requirements, or get you released.
If You Need a Lawyer AbroadThe Foreign and Commonwealth Office (or the local British Embassy, Consulate or High Commission) will be able to give you a list of local lawyers but they don't actually recommend any of them - it's up to you to make that decision.
The first thing you need to make sure is that you have a local lawyer to prepare your defence, tell you how the justice system works in the country you've been detained in, and give you a rundown of your legal rights. You need to consider if the person you are hiring:
- Speaks English well enough for you to understand - and understands what you are saying.
- Has experience in dealing with your type of case.
- Has a good local reputation.
- Once you find your lawyer, arrange to meet them and prepare your version of events, any documentation you have, and a list of questions for the lawyer to answer.
After your first meeting, ask the lawyer for a letter stating:
- They are prepared to take on the work
- A brief overview of their advice to you
- Names and job title of the person taking your case on
- Estimates of timescales
- Approximate legal costs.
What About My Human Rights?You shouldn't lose your entitlement to human rights protection just because you've been arrested. Most international treatise contain a provision about fair trials - usually along the lines that an individual is entitled to a fair and public hearing, which should take place within a reasonable time and before an independent and impartial tribunal.
They usually also specify that you are innocent until proven guilty and if necessary, you should be provided with an interpreter without charge.
Many international human rights treaties also have specific provisions that prohibit torture, inhumane treatment or punishment and specify that anyone in detention must be treated properly.
Make sure that you get legal advice from your lawyer about human rights in the country you have been detained in. If you think you have a case for complaint about human rights violations, you may be able to take this up with an international body, depending on which country is responsible. Unfortunately, these procedures can be slow, costly and complicated, and you will normally have to go through all available channels in the country you've been kept in before taking your case further internationally.
If you've broken the law in a foreign country, you're bound by their legal system and you'll be expected to take the consequences. The best advice is obvious - stay out of trouble!