The local judicial system


With worldwide conviction rates of mostly over 90%, forced confessions, plea bargaining, junk science forensics and corrupt, inefficient systems, your chance of getting a fair trial that meets international standards is, most likely, low to zero. 

The actual court proceedings themselves can often be glacially slow and fail to properly gather and disclose, and test and investigate, the evidence. 

There can be a dozen or more ‘hearings’ in court before you ever reach an actual trial. The availability of witnesses can be poor, as can the quality of court-appointed translators

Be aware of the existence of international prisoner transfer agreements.

the underworld

As with bribes I am not going to advise you to use these illegal services. 

Yes, we were approached and we discussed these matters. No, we did not use them. Its a highly dangerous risk. Indeed you may be approached by all sorts of people offering to smuggle you across borders or other forms of ‘help’. 

It goes without saying that you are risking life and limb (and huge amounts of money). 

Don't disappear from the radar

One vital point I must underline is that, win or lose, you must not disappear from the radar. 

By this, I mean that your family and friends and supporters, the local embassy, and anyone else you can think of must know where you are at all times, and the local authorities must understand that they and you are being watched. 

You could say it’s a form of bullying, that ‘things’ happen when there are no ‘adults’ in the room. 


It’s crucial to be aware of your health and emotions as the first days turn into weeks and you have to consider how to move forward. 

When the event hits you, your world will stop. You may feel like an outcast, as though everyone on the street is watching you and knows what has happened. 

Nights were the worst for us, as the stupidity of what Paul had gotten himself and us into broadened and deepened. Of course, he was sorry. We were all sorry by that stage – sorry for allowing him to go to that country, sorry for not objecting to his gap year, sorry for him not acting responsibly. 

That feeling of guilt will last a lifetime, beyond a prison sentence. That feeling of utter dread as you wake up in the morning and the knowledge of where you are and what you are facing comes flooding back to you is indescribable. Similarly, you carry that feeling in your stomach all your waking day and go off to sleep (if you can get any) with it gagging you. It was like drowning in a sea of darkness. 

Yet I could see people in the distance, on the shore, happily playing and getting on with their lives. We were not part of that world anymore. We inhabited a different world, a different dimension.


Trying to pick yourself up is difficult, but you must put one foot in front of the other. You must force yourself to breathe. So, clear the decks and get yourselves organised for this ultramarathon. 

From my experience, it can take between two and 10 years before the final verdict is reached and you have exhausted all possible means of appeal – that is, before you have fought your way through various levels of appeal. 

Of course, I cannot give a blanket timescale on all the world’s judicial systems, but from my decades of experience and intense study of it, it generally appears to take six to 24 months for a first verdict to be announced. If you wish not to appeal – if you have chosen to plead guilty and accepted the verdict – at this point, the judicial proceedings should normally end. If you want to fight it, as we did, as this guidance is framed around, then it’s just round one. There’s a long, long way to go. 

So, get your family and supporters organised. 

  • Clarify who is the ‘point man’. Who is going to be driving this bus?
  • Who is going to be drafting and lobbying and researching?
  • Get your finances ready, your ‘war chest’ – you are going to need a lot of money

It’s probably going to take longer than you ever thought and cost you ten times more than you could possibly muster. Get ready! 


You will have to make some big money decisions. 

Many judicial systems seem to have three levels of court: 

  • District Court (this is the most basic and is where you may receive your initial sentence)
  • High Court (sometimes ‘of Appeal’)
  • Supreme Court (‘of Appeal’)

It can take one to three years to obtain a final trial at the District Court level, another one to three years for a High Court appeal trial and then (if they will take your case) another one to three years for a Supreme Court trial. 

Therefore, it can easily take a decade to go through them all depending upon where you are in the world. For each level, you should consider whether you want to pay your local lawyer in batches of six months or for the ‘whole ride’, i.e. for that entire one- to three-year level.

I suggest that you pay your local lawyer for the ‘whole ride’ of that level, which might take one to three years. In our case, for each level, our lawyers cost us £25,000 each time. We went the entire way, through all three levels – so over £75,000 simply in lawyers’ fees. 

But that of course is not the end of you haemorrhaging money. Added to that there will be costs involving translations of evidence, other lawyers and ex-prosecutors and judges you may wish to consult, flights to and from the country and accommodation, car hire, food, and perhaps engaging English or Scottish lawyers. 

Should you, as we did, actually relocate out there, to live there in order to support your family member and to be on the front line of the fight, then you will have to pay for flat rental, visas, perhaps work permits (if you can get them), insurance and health costs – in short, every aspect of life. 

Paul and I were able to work out there, teaching English as a foreign language, while on a travel ban (which we did not know would take us seven years to get through – get your CELTA if you are serious and want to teach English as a foreign language). We also speak Chinese and know the country and had local support. And so we basically made a life for ourselves out there. 

Bearing in mind all these expenses, it may cost you anywhere between £25,000 and £100,000 to fight your case. It cost us £250,000. The financial aspects can be ruinous!