How to make a complaint (denuncia) in Spain

What is a ‘denuncia’?

A ‘denuncia’ is a written or verbal complaint to the authorities which informs them of any known fact which may consitute a criminal offence, even if it has not been directly witnessed or caused any personal harm.

Who can make a complaint and who is obligated to do so?

If you witness a public offence, or are informed that one has taken place, you are obliged to inform the authorities immediately, facing charges yourself if you fail to do so. 

Public employees are especially obliged to make a complaint, given their profession and authority.

Those who are not obligated to make a complaint include:

  • under 16s

  • those who lack capacity

  • parents or ancestors, spouses, siblings or children/descendants of the offender

Making a complaint does not place any particular responsibility on you; you are not obligated to prove the facts of the complaint or take part in the ensuing juidicial process. False complaints are an offense against the Justice Administration, punishable by law.

How and where are complaints made?

  • They are made either in written or verbal form, before any police authority; a police station at a municipal, autonomous or national level or a Civil Guard station. This will initiate an investigation by the police to check the facts and provide witness statements.

  • They can also be made before the Public Prosecutor. They will carry out an investigation or instruct the police authorities to do so, and if they find that the complaint is supported, they will send all documentation to the relevant court

  • or before the Investigating Court or the Magistrates’ Court in your area of residence. Here, the judge examines the content of the complaint and decides the next steps to take; either closure of the case, dismissal without prejudice, transferral of the case to the relevant court, or pursual of criminal proceedings.

You must:

  • Provide your personal details in the written complaint, or through providing documentation including your passport, driving license or other similar form of identification.

  • State all the facts relating to the criminal offense, as well as all the details you have relating to the people involved.

  • Sign the complaint

  • Take into account that the deadline for making a complaint for minor offences is 6 months after the offence.

  • Bring documents, medical reports, witness statements or any other evidence you have.

  • Request a receipt for the complaint.

If you are victim to or harmed by the crime, you have the right to be informed about the following points:

  • The possibility of being part of the judicial process, exercising the appropriate civil and criminal actions, as well as the possibility of accessing free legal aid.

  • The right to compensation.

Criminal trial

During the criminal proceedings:

  • If the complaint reports severe crime, the proceedings will take place at the corresponding Court. Here, there are three possible proceedings; ordinary proceedings for serious crimes punishable with prison sentences of more than 9 years, summary proceedings for both serious and less serious crimes with a prison sentence between 5 and 9 years, or proceedings before the Jury Court for crimes which are not classified solely by the punishment, including homicide, threats, breaking and entering.

  • If the complaint reports a less serious crime with a punishment of less than 5 years in prison, the proeedings will take place at the corresponding criminal court.

  • For minor offences, misdemeanour proceedings will take place at the Investigating Court or Peace Court.

Misdemeanour proceedings

  • For minor crimes, the deadline for making a statement is 6 months after the incident.

  • Hiring a lawyer or attorney is not necessary.

  • It is sometimes necessary to provide evidence at an appointment arranged prior to the proceedings; this evidence may include bills and can be used to draw up a medical report.

  • You must provide all evidence at the trial. If you need a witness to testify, you must request this in advance.


  • Sentences can be appealed before the Provincial Court within 5 days from their notification

  • The appeal should be presented in writing before the court which gave the sentence. It should include the reasons for the appeal, for example if any procedural laws were not respected during the trial.

  • The sentence given by the Provincial Court in the appeal cannot then be appealed.

Processing of the complaint

  • The Public Prosecutor representative, present parties and victim of the crime should be notified of the decisions made by the judge during the process. Victims should inquire at Court if they don’t receive any news about the progress of their complaint.

  • If the complaint is successful, it is not necessary to hire a lawyer and be present at the proceedings, the representative of the Public Prosecutor will represent your interests and claim compensation for you.

Victim assistance office

  • If you have been victim to a violent crime or crime against sexual freedom, this office will provide reliable information and a meeting about the next steps to follow, as well as how to get compensation.

  • There is a deadline of one year for requesting compensation. The deadline begins once the victim has received notification of the resolution of the criminal process.

DISCLAIMER: The information in this article is not definitive. For up-to-date advice relevant to your case please contact our Spanish lawyers.

Piñera del Olmo

Granada del Penedès 10, entlo
08006 Barcelona

Phone: +34 93 514 39 97

Fax: +34 93 127 07 66