How much it Costs to be Imprisoned Abroad

Published by Caitlyn Hart on

If you are arrested and tried anywhere in the United Kingdom, there is a system which is in place to support you and your family through the financial burden. However, what if you are a British citizen and are arrested abroad, where does the financial burden fall? Well the short answer to that is…squarely on you.

According to the Office of National Statistics, travel trends in 2016 show that there were over 70 million visits overseas by UK residents, who spent £43.8 billion on visits abroad. But for British citizens who get arrested abroad, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) do little to nothing to help. They can refer you to organisations which can help though, such as Prisoners Abroad, which is a welfare charity that assists British citizens imprisoned abroad and provides information and support to their families.

According to Prisoners Abroad they are currently supporting 1,012 British people being held overseas. They are also currently supporting 1,716 family members and friends of prisoners being held in prisons abroad.  In 2017, Prisoners Abroad helped a total of 1.594 British citizens that were being held overseas.

However, as of May 2018, the FCO were aware of 2,325 British Nationals detained abroad. These figures were obtained from a Freedom Of Information Request (FOI) submitted to the FCO and represent cases where British consular officials have been notified of the detention.

In Britain, if you can show that you cannot afford to pay for legal advice or legal representation then you may not need to pay anything at all towards your legal costs. In some cases, the full amount of your legal costs will not be covered by the Government and you may be required to contribute some money towards your legal costs. This assessment on whether or not you receive financial aid depends on your current financial position and the type of legal help you need.

When arrested and detained overseas whether you get legal aid or not mostly depends on one factor; whether the country you were arrested in offers a legal aid programme and whether this applies to visitors. The British Government under no circumstances will cover or contribute to the cost of your legal fees or extra costs incurred while imprisoned.

If you are a British citizen and have been arrested in any European country, except Croatia and Romania, you can apply for legal aid. You can also apply for legal aid in Norway, Switzerland, Turkey, and Azerbaijan.

In some cases, legal aid is not the only luxury that British citizens are not afforded abroad. Prison conditions and how they are treated also differs. In some cases, British citizens face terrible conditions and are treated terribly by authorities.

According to a Freedom of Information request the FCO stated that “As of June 2018, we are aware of 119 allegations of torture or mistreatment.” Sources in the government have told Moneyjar that it is quite a common complaint that the UK does not do enough for British citizens who are in trouble around the world.

It is the role of the British Consulate, in whatever country you are in, to offer appropriate assistance to British citizens, who have been detained or arrested abroad. The Consulate can do very little to help, and they offer no financial support at all. The main role of the Consulate is primarily to look after the welfare of British citizens while they are being detained. One thing the British consulate can help with is providing you with a list of local lawyers and translators.

Alan Smith, 44, a British citizen, and his wife Magdalena Wolinska were arrested and subsequently charged with the facilitation of unlawful immigration of six Iraqi citizens, in Belarus, on the 29th of September 2016. Although Wolinska was later released, Smith was sentenced to two years in prison at the Glubokoye court in Belarus, on the 11th of July 2017.

Speaking about the whether the British Government should do more to help British citizens, and their families, who have been arrested abroad, Wolinska, said: “I think that the government should do more to help. Especially in countries like Belarus, where most lawyers are working with investigators and the KGB, you really can’t trust anyone. I was searching for a good trustful lawyer for at least few months.

“The lawyers that were on a list provided by the British Embassy were crazily expensive. The first lawyer I had cost 850 Euros per visit, which is absolutely ridiculous when compared to the price that Belarussian citizens pay, which they will pay an average of 50 Euros for a lawyer per visit. It’s very hard to find English speaking lawyer.”

In Alan’s case his wife and family covered these costs, which saw them pay more, than the average Belarussian would, per visit or court appearance. According to Wolinska: “Lawyers’ fees in Belarus cost thousands of pounds and if I had to guess at the total amount I have spent on lawyers’ fees, I would estimate around £30,000.”

“I also send him £150 every month, so he can buy food from the prison shop, and every 3 months he is allowed a parcel with food, toiletries, clothes, books, magazines, and newspapers.”

However, the costs Smith’s family has incurred, is specific to his case and the country he is imprisoned in, which is Belarus. It is important to remember that each case is different, and costs incurred will be different depending on the country people have been detained.

“The money that we spent doesn’t really matter, as Alan’s life is worth everything. Even if it’s hard and I struggle, he is my priority,” says Wolinska.


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