Crime / Judiciary / Spain


Judge Emilio Calatayud

Judge Emilio Calatayud

Judge Emilio Calatayud has been a shining beacon in the darkness of the Spanish judicial system. He was born in Ciudad Real in 1955. After his father sent him to a very strict boarding school aged 13, he ‘mended his ways’ and was deeply affected by the experience.  Later he became an attorney and a judge (two separate career paths in Spain). Eventually he specialized in Youth Law and was appointed to the youth courts in Granada, where, between 1993 and 2001 he was the senior judge.

Calatayud, who has published several books on the subject, is famous for his unusual (in Spain) but perfectly legal sentences, and held up as an example in the judiciary. Some of these (from his book Mis Sentencias Ejemplares (My Exemplary Sentences), published in 2008) include:

  • 1000 hours of IT classes to a young hacker who had caused damage to Granada companies to the value of €2,000
  • 100 hours of community service on patrol with the local police, for having driven without due care and attention and without a license.
  • 50 hours drawing and creating a comic illustrating the reason the youngster was condemned.
  • Visits to the Granada Hospital trauma unit, for driving a motorbike without insurance.
  • A full day visiting hospital paraplegic patients for a youngster driving under the influence. To talk to them and their families and later write a report.
  • To work with the fire department for having set fire to rubbish containers.
  • To work at a rehab centre for having accosted an old lady.
  • 200 hours of service in a toy shop for having stolen clothes.
  • To reforest an area for having set fire to it.
  • To distribute food among the homeless, for having abused a street dweller.
  • To clean the windows of public buildings, thus being seen by passers-by, for having attacked another youth who ‘looked at me bad’.

Many of the judge’s sentences have had the positive effect of turning young lives around. In a poll taken in 2006, parents throughout the country said they would have liked their children to have come up before Judge Calatayud, for this reason. One of his favourite sentences, he says, is to oblige youngsters to finish his or her basic schooling and to obtain their appropriate certificates.

The question of why he was so successful in his sentencing (70% of the youths coming before him are not repeat offenders) has become a moot point in the judiciary. Calatayud was considered a ‘maverick’ and was often attacked for his ‘liberalism’. Others praise him for defying the traditions of the Spanish judiciary (which is said to be the slowest in Western Europe).

Some of his best remarks, mostly from interviews, are quoted below:

  1. We have become our children’s mates. I’m not a mate, I’m their father. If I were their mate, they would be orphans.
  2. Give them everything they want. That way, they’ll grow up to believe the world owes them everything.
  3. Today’s little tyrants have a great chance of becoming tomorrow’s delinquents.
  4. What coercive enforcement can I use to deal with my children if the State has removed it? To confuse a slap with abuse is plainly absurd, yet no government has changed that.
  5. Internet slipped through our hands a long time ago; parents are not aware that it has become a drug as well as the perfect means to carry out criminal activities.
  6. If at 18 they don’t agree with parental discipline, they know where to find the door.
  7. You only stop having problems with your children when you die.
  8. They say that a child is traumatized if told ‘NO’. We’re told that we have to reason with them, but if your 3 year old is about to put his finger in an electrical plug, reasoning won’t go far before he electrocutes himself.
  9. Every juvenile delinquent has a history behind him/her – who doesn’t?. Sometimes you even hear that they had no choice but to become a criminal.
  10. Let’s face it, school is a pain. At age three, most of them go to school in tears, except the Infantas (Spain’s princesses). I am what I am because I was obliged to study, not because I felt like it.
  11. There are kids who don’t want to be in school. They simply will not and cannot sit at a desk for six hours. A solution to the drop-out problem is needed urgently.
  12. Kids have rights for everything. There is a Children’s Rights Day. But we (in Spain) seem to be afraid to talk to them about responsibility and obligations. I’ll give one example: minors are obliged to obey and respect their parents, and to contribute to the welfare of the home. It’s the law.
  13. We can’t put a 12 year old on the bench for killing a friend. But we can charge the parents.
  14. 80% of the minors I deal with commit offences, but they are not delinquents.
  15. You don’t have to be a psychologist to see a problem coming. Sometimes you see a 5 year old and know you are before a future criminal. Many of them are in jail at 18.

Judge Emilio Calatayud, now retired from activity on the bench but still a judge on call, spends much of his time lecturing and writing a blog with Carlos Morán, co-author of his books. (

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