A Yorkshireman in Valencia: Trials and Tribulations In Spain

For those used to justice UK-style, where assailants and thieves are typically arrested within hours thanks to the fact that Britain has more surveillance cameras per capita than virtually anywhere in the world, Spanish justice seems to be utterly bonkers and makes victims of crime feel that they are complicit, says our Yorkshireman in Valencia – Martin Bland

What is justice? Well, that depends on whom you ask. Advocates of Divine Command Theory say that all justice is from by God. But the 19th-century philosopher John Stuart Mill said that justice is based on “the best outcomes for the greatest number of people”. Worrying if you’re an old lady living alone and you’re visited by a gang of burglars.

Valencia is an incredibly safe place but back in June, my wife was the victim of a crime. A bag-dipper and her accomplice, so two versus one – you can already see where this is going, can’t you? – had dipped into her bag and, recognising the contours of a purse, quickly withdrew the blue leather item, hot-footed it down to the nearest cashpoint and, over a period of nine minutes proceeded to withdraw her weekly giro and redistribute its value, principally in favour of themselves.

In Spain, as in the UK, victims of such crimes are required to make a police report. Here, it’s called a denuncia – if they want to stand any chance of getting their insurance to cough up. However, here in Spain, unlike in the UK, making a denuncia seems to trigger a process that hands you some kind of responsibility for doing something about the crime committed against you. And so it was that, four months on from the robbery my wife received a letter from the courts, summoning her to a specified courtroom, at a specific time, on a specific date, at an undisclosed address, with no suggestion as to why she had to appear. 

A fine of up to €2,000

It did say that failure to attend was punishable by a fine of up to €2,000. So, while commenting on the injustice of a system that threatened further punishment for the victims of the crime. Not, we hoped, the sort of justice that God would have sent down – we agreed not to ignore the letter. We also decided to engage the services of an interpreter. My Spanish is OK but I still struggle with the difference between por and para. It’s not yet at court proceedings level. 

The specified date arrived so we set off for the undisclosed address, which was, in fact, the City of Justice. A huge, glass fish-tank of a building, where you are the fish. We’d been advised to get there early and to take a picnic – it turned out to be good advice. Alighting the 95 bus, a long queue to get into the building stretched out in front of us, giving us the impression that justice in Valencia is a popular thing. We felt emboldened.

With plenty of time in hand, we settled into some seats to eat our sandwiches and observe the goings-on. The judges started to arrive so my wife, being my wife, checked out their style. Court 34, next to ours, was to be administered by a lady wearing expensive heels; our judge, in contrast, had selected a pair of ankle-height Wellingtons and resembled Edith Piaf with badly drawn, wonky eyebrows. Je ne regretted rien… 

Justice - Feature image
Ciutat Justícia Valencia – Confusing Our Yorkshireman in Valencia

Justice time beckons

I texted my daughter about the unfolding adventure but was a little perturbed by her reply; “have you been caught graffiti-ing the city again?” she enquired. More and more fish swam in and we started to sense that everyone was eyeing everyone else up. Possibly wondering whether they were standing next to the violent brother of someone they’d denounced for kicking their cat. Our thoughts turned to the two robbers from June and then, there they were, in front of us; or at least there, we thought they were. My wife couldn’t remember exactly what they looked like but did remember that they had different shoes on. And now, they were giving us hard stares, so they were clearly wrong-uns…

The hour of the trial eventually arrived, but our interpreter didn’t, so the judge came out and told us that there would be no trial today, maybe in a year’s time; we could come back. We didn’t understand – as I say, my Spanish isn’t at court proceedings level – so we waited for the interpreter, and waited, and waited… for two more hours, by which time all we had left of the picnic were chewy sweets. The interpreter, when she did finally put in an appearance, turned out to be a Chinese student with broken English. 

She explained that Edith seemed to be saying that the purpose of the day was actually for US to give THEM an update on what WE had discovered since THEIR investigations started in June, and did WE want to come back in another year, to waste another day of OUR precious time, to give THEM a further update? This was Spanish bureaucracy at its very best. We declined the offer of another day in court, thereby freeing the two thieves from further investigation. 

Feeling bemused

Justice, in the eyes of John Stuart Mill at least, had been served – the best outcome had indeed been delivered to the greatest number of people; the two robbers, rather than my one wife.

Bemused, we left the City of Justice ruing the loss of a day that we could have used to start our Christmas shopping, and how, strangely, the day had turned out to be very much like Christmas – a big build-up but ultimately, a disappointing waste of time. The only remaining question was, if the police hadn’t in fact caught the bag-dippers, who then, were those two women, and why had they been looking so furtively at us? We’re not in Kansas anymore…

Our Yorkshireman in Valencia, Martin Bland, moved to Valencia from his native Yorkshire in 2004. An avid Leeds fan, he regularly organises trips for Leeds supporters to come to Castellón matches to pay tribute to Pablo Hernández. Martin has a fund into which Leeds fans donate – as someone who was formerly homeless, he uses these funds to supply Christmas parcels of food for those on the streets in Valencia.

Read what our Yorkshireman in Valencia thinks about Spanish football.

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