STICKS and stones may break your bones but (bad) words can also harm you, and your pocket, in Spain.

Antonio Flores
Antonio Flores

Using threatening, abusive or insulting language against a person can be a costly exercise if your ‘victim’ decides to see you in court.

Repetitive use of bad language, the specific circumstances in which it is hurled (private or public) and, more importantly, your choice of words may all aggravate the outcome.

But how do law courts evaluate the level of seriousness and what are the words that will secure a fine, or even a conviction, if reported to the courts and/or the police?

The Spanish Criminal Code, for obvious reasons, has not compiled a list of offending language but has left it to the general public and society to quantify the degree of the insult. As the courts speak for society in this respect, let’s see what they say:

Cordoba Court: Levied a €60 fine for a name-caller who labelled the victim ‘conceited’, ‘manipulating’, ‘blackmailer’, ‘arrogant’ and ‘a bumpkin.’

Burgos Court: Fined a drunken reveler €60 for calling someone ‘lowlife’, ‘son of bitch’ and ‘scumbag’.

Barcelona Appeal Court: Fined an ex-wife for hurling abuse at her former husband. Her choice of words – ‘fucking coward’, ‘shyster’ and ‘crook’ – secured her a €100 fine.

Ciudad Real Court: Slapped a €900 fine on a bill sticker for posting notices in strategic points of a village with the following wording: ‘Juan the crook, Juan the swindler, Juan the thief. He claims poverty and buys himself a new car.’

Supreme Court: Fined a policewoman €1,600 and ordered payment of €6,000 in moral damages for calling a colleague a ‘family tradition whore who has secured promotions thanks to her leg-opening skills’.

Supreme Court: Ordered three regular guests attending a Telecinco gossip show to pay €120,000 to a celebrity for hurling the following colourful words and phrases: ‘two-faced’, ‘embittered’, ‘clown’, ‘coward’, ‘swindler’, ‘clumsy’, ‘son of a bitch’, ‘daft’, ‘lacking in class’, ‘pork parents deliver swines’ (Spanish saying), ‘villager’, ‘illiterate’, ‘silly cow’, ‘hustler’. The size of the compensation was in proportion to the prime time exposure enjoyed by the show.

In the following case, a disgruntled litigant who was serving a prison sentence sent a letter to the deciding Judge with the following content: ‘Complaint directed to the Magistrate so that everyone knows that you are one drug-trafficker, arms smuggler, corrupt queer, I would kill you for free if I could you son of a bitch.’

The level of the fine – €360 – was in sharp contrast to the 15-month term of imprisonment also imposed for the death threat, with publicity, as the sentencing Judge understood that the letter was openly distributed in prison, where the felon was already serving time.