The Legal System in the Costa del Sol

This guide was written by Manzanares Abogados S.L. (info@manzanaresinternational.com) in collaboration with Guides.Global (office@guides.global).

It was written on 10 May 2016. The law and practice in Spain change all the time. Our guides are updated as frequently as possible - typically every three years - but may be out of date.

Our guides are prepared by professionals from many countries. They are, of necessity, both brief and general and can take no account of your personal circumstances. They are intended to be a good introduction to the subject BUT ARE NO SUBSTITUTE FOR PROPER PROFESSIONAL ADVICE, which our contributors will usually be happy to provide upon request.

The advice and opinions contained in the guides are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Guides.Global.

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The scope of this guide

This guide explains, briefly, the legal system in Spain. It covers the criminal legal system, the civil legal system, the family law legal system, the administrative law system, the way laws are made and the legal services available in Spain.

It describes, in particular, the legal system in the area of Andalusia/Andalucía – which contains the Costa del Sol. See a map here. Please note that certain aspects of the law in Spain vary from one "autonomous community" (comunidad autónoma) lightbulb image - click here for more information on this subject to another.

This guide does not cover the details of how to deal with a criminal, a civil or a family law case in Spain.


Spain is divided into 17 Autonomous Communities, each with its own Parliament and Government. Even though the Spanish Constitution defines Spain as unitary and indissoluble, it also recognizes and guarantees the principle of autonomy of nationalities and regions.

Making laws in the Costa del Sol

In Spain, the Legislative Chamber or Parliament exercises the legislative power. Although Spain is divided into Autonomous Communities, the Judicial Power is unitary. Autonomous Communities do not have judicial power and their courts are courts of the State.

See our Guide to Voting and Politics in Spain for more information.

Court organisation

Courts in Spain are organised by territorial organization and by jurisdictional orders. They are divided into:

Military Courts also exist, but they only apply within their own internal scope.

Legislative process on the Costa del Sol

legal systemIn Spain, there are several different ways of creating a new law:


The Government submits a bill that must be approved in the Council of Ministers, who then submit it to the Congress together with an explanation on why this new law is necessary.

Once a bill has been approved by the Congress, it will be delivered to the Senate, who may reject it or introduce amendments into it. Congress may or may not accept the amendments. The law can only be put in place if it is voted for unanimously by all Congress members.

Congress and Senate

Each chamber (the Congress or the Senate) can propose a new law. It must be approved by the other chamber.

Assemblies of Autonomous Communities

Assemblies of Autonomous Communities may make a request for the Government to adopt a bill or send their proposal to Congress.

Popular initiative

This type of initiative requires at least 500,000 signatures and is not applicable to Organic Laws lightbulb image - hover here for more information on this subject callout Organic law
A law stating the formal constitution of a nation
, taxation, international affairs or the prerogative of pardon.

Different types of law in the Costa del Sol

In Spain, we divide the law into public law and private law.

Public law in the Costa del Sol

Public law is organized as follows:

Private law

Private law is organized as follows:

The criminal legal system in Spain

See our Crime & Criminal Cases in the Costa del Sol for details of the criminal legal system in Spain.

The civil legal system in Spain

See our Guide to Disputes & Court Cases in Spain for details about how the civil law system in Spain operates.

The system relating to family law in Spain

Our guides to Family Law in Spain, Divorce in Spain and Child Abduction in Spain explain how family law works.

Administrative law in Spain

The administrative procedure provides and sets out the relationship between the Spanish citizens and the Spanish Public Administration, granting the principle of equality of the citizens before the Administration. The Courts control the regulatory power and the legality of administrative acts as well as its compliance with the objectives which justify it.

If you have been prejudiced by the act that any of the bodies or civil servants of the Spanish Public Administration had taken, you may claim against it as follows:

It is strongly advisable to consult a Spanish lawyer on whether to bring legal action or not. A lawyer is always required in the administrative procedure.

Liability of the Spanish Administration

Private individuals, under the terms established by the law, are entitled to an indemnity for any harm they suffer in any of their property and rights - except if these were caused by force majeure lightbulb image - hover here for more information on this subject callout Force majeure
Translated literally as "superior force", in legal terms a force majeure refers to circumstances or events beyond either party's control - for example, a natural disaster, a war or a riot.
- whenever such harm is the result of the functioning of the public services (e.g. in case of medical negligence).

The individuals have a period of one year after suffering the damages to claim against the administrative body that caused them. The decision the administration issues may be appealed.

Legal help available on the Costa del Sol


The only source of professional legal help available in Spain is a lawyer. The lawyers of each Spanish Province have their own Bar Association called Colegio de Abogados - see Malaga Province's Ilustre Colegio de Abogados de Málaga - and you should be able to access to a list of all qualified lawyers in the Province through their websites.

IMAGE TITLEMany lawyers will be specialists in certain fields. If you're buying a property, for example, it is advisable to use the services of a lawyer’s firm that is used to working within the scope of real estate law. This gives you the best chance to to ensure that all formalities are complied with and deadlines are met.

To continue the example, major law firms specialised in real estate operations will have a website offering information in several languages on the process of buying a property in Spain, and other matters of interest for the foreign buyer.

It is advisable to find a local lawyer that offers you services in your language, rather than lawyers of your own nationality, who may not know the Spanish system as well, or local Spanish lawyers that are unable to communicate effectively with you in your own language.

Once a lawyer has been recommended to you - or you've identified a likely candidate - don't be afraid to contact their office and speak to them. They will not think this is in any way surprising.

If you feel comfortable with the lawyer, sense they know what they are talking about and find that they can communicate with you in a way that you understand, you may appoint them to act for you. In Spain, it is not usual to sign a services contract with the lawyer, and their services are hired by simply accepting the quotation given and paying a provision of funds.

The lawyer is required to give you an estimate of likely fees and costs, although you should bear in mind that, perfectly genuinely, it is often impossible to give any sensible estimate of the total fees for dealing with the transaction until you know quite a lot about it. In these cases you would expect a general indication of fees, plus a firm fee for dealing with the first stage of the transaction.

Lawyers' fees depend upon the experience of the lawyer. They typically vary from €120-250 per hour, with the large majority in the €120-200 per hour range.

Fees are subject to VAT and you will also have to pay out any expenses incurred by the lawyer on your behalf. These will include things such as Land Registry fees, notary fees, court fees and travelling expenses.

It is possible to agree a fixed fee for certain types of work. This is a fee that does not depend upon the amount of time it takes the lawyer to complete the task.

'No win, no fee' deals are not done in Spain.

There is also Legal Aid (free public legal assistance) available in Spain. To be entitled to it, you must meet certain requirements (see here for more details). Application must be submitted before the process starts, in the Lawyers Bar Association of the relevant Court jurisdiction or in the Court nearest to your address.


Many disputes in Spain are solved by way of mediation lightbulb image - hover here for more information on this subject callout Mediation
In mediation, the people in dispute appoint an independent person to find a solution to their problem.

Mediators have no legal powers but are skilled in helping to find workable solutions.
. See our Guide to Disputes and Court Cases in Spain.

If mediation fails or if the other party won't agree to mediation, you may need to take a more formal legal route to dealing with your difficulty.


Unlike some other countries, which may have the good weather and business prospects of the Costa del Sol but a dodgy legal system, Spain has a strong legal system that guarantees that rights are protected, and obligations are met.

If you decide to move to Spain, do business here or even just spend a holiday here, it's good to know that you are protected from a legal point of view.

Other guides of interest

 Description Link 
Regional Guide to the Costa del Sol
Facts, figures and culture.
region guide to the Costa del Sol
Disputes & Court Cases on the Costa del Sol
This guide is about all aspects of dealing with a dispute in the Costa del Sol. It covers preliminary stages, mediation, arbitration and going to court
court cases in the Costa del Sol
Criminal Law
This guide is about what happens if you become involved in a criminal case in the Costa del Sol.
criminal law in the Costa del Sol

You may also want to read:

 Description Link 
Andalucia.com - Law in Andalucia
Some general information on lawyers, tax, marriage and wills.
law in andalucia

Readers' Comments


Further information?

We hope you have found this guide useful. If you need any further help, please contact us.

Manzanares Abogados S.L.

10 May 2016


This guide was co-authored by John Howell (Email: John.Howell@Guides.Global or John@jhco.org. Web: www.jhco.org or www.Guides.Global)

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