Legal psychology in Spain: History and development

Legal psychology in Spain: History and development

The Legal Psychology in Spain, is a scientific discipline on horseback between Psychology and Law. According to the Official College of Psychologists, it includes:

  • study
  • Explanation
  • Promotion
  • Evaluation
  • Prevention
  • Counseling and / or treatment

Of those psychological, behavioral and relational phenomena that affect the legal behavior of people, through the use of methods of Scientific Psychology.

Legal Psychology in Spain: Background

The first background of the legal psychology in Spain They can be placed in the early contributions of Luis Vives and Juan Huarte de San Juan, in the 16th century. At this early time, the existence of a concern about crime and the applied orientation of psychology is already denoted.

In the nineteenth century, a deeper analysis of the offender will be developed and the concept of pain. A first order event is the development of the first Spanish Criminal Code in 1822. There are several trends that will address these issues, where anthropological concerns, phrenology, legal medicine, Krausism and criminology are found.

It is also worth noting the contributions of jurists. These collect the psychoanalysis approaches and introduce knowledge derived from psychology into the field of law.

They stand out among these to:

  • Camargo Marín, which in 1930 publishes Psychoanalysis and practice judicial
  • Jiménez de Asúa, also an expert in law, who wrote Criminal psychoanalysis
  • Other jurists of the time who were interested in psychological issues of law were Saldana, Quiros Y Neck among others.

Legal psychology during the Second Republic

The manual of legal psychology of Mira i López (1932) It is the first publication on the subject that appears in Spain, being considered start point of this field of study.

In his work, collected the contributions of different schools of psychology to the legal field: behaviorism, psychoanalysis, personality, Gestalt psychology, evolutionary genetics, neurology, constitutional and typological psychology.

He discussed topics about testimony, understanding of crime, forensic reports, moral reform and mental health.

Legal Psychology during Francoism and post-Francoism

In 1965, the first Department of Psychology was created in the Madrid prison, directed by Jesús Alarcón, and three years later, the General Department of Penitentiary Observation was put into operation for classification, where psychologists, educators and jurists worked as a team.

During the seventies, there will be a series of events that will form the basis for the development and subsequent settlement of the Legal Psychology in Spain.

  • First, in 1971 they leave the universities of Madrid and Barcelona, the first two promotions of Spanish psychologists
  • Then, in the same year, the Department of Sociology and Psychology is created Law of the Barcelona Bar Association
  • In addition, the magazine would appear in 1974, the magazine Yearbook of Sociology and Legal Psychology, directed by Muñoz Sabaté, who shortly afterwards would write the text with Bayés and Munné Introduction to legal psychology (Muñoz Sabaté, Bayés and Munné, 1980)
  • In fact, in this one the articles published by these authors in the previous years in the mentioned magazine were compiled being considered as the first Spanish text on the subject of this new stage
  • Also, another relevant event was the celebration in 1976 of the first International Congress of Legal Psychology in Spain
  • In 1979, the entry into force of the Penitentiary Law it will involve the irruption of the psychologist in prisons


An important event will open the eighties, the creation in 1980 of the Official College of Psychologists. Subsequently, in Madrid (1987) and in Barcelona (1989) the commissions of legal psychology would begin to function.

In 1981, the Divorce Law and the subsequent creation of Family Courts will be responsible for the incorporation of the psychologist as part of the psychosocial teams.

Five years later, Psychologists will join the Medical-Forensic Clinics and Juvenile Courts. In addition, in this decade a greater number of publications begin to occur.

We must also highlight the appearance of monographic numbers throughout the 80s on legal psychology in the journal Roles of the Psychologist. In 1989 the magazine begins to be published Delinquency and in 1991 from the College of Psychologists the edition of the Yearbook of Legal Psychology.


At the beginning of the nineties different conferences and congresses are held, where legal psychology will be represented as one of the main thematic areas. Bajet i Royo (1995) points out the existence of four basic elements for the consolidation of the profession:

  • A tendency to association
  • The publication of books and magazines
  • The specialized in the subject, the institutionalization, especially by the law, of the psychologists as professionals in the legal context
  • The creation of a specific university curriculum, highlighting in this line the special contributions of authors such as Burillo, Clemente, Seoane, Munné, Sobral, Diges, etc.

Legal Psychology today

Nowadays, Legal psychology has a scientific, historical, research, professional and legal legitimacy. In addition, it presents three types of approaches:

  • First, the need to have the discoveries of psychology for obtaining legal proof
  • Next, the scientific qualification of the psychologist to issue forensic reports
  • Finally, the influence of psychological knowledge about legal change

Although all areas of research are represented among Spanish researchers, there are some that stand out:

  • Prison investigation: focused on the application and evaluation of programs
  • Crime Study: evaluation and predictors, prevention and treatment
  • Victimology and forensic aspects: expert reports, testimony studies, jury decisions

Legal Psychology in Spain: conclusions

The interest in achieving a broad and well-founded understanding of the subjects who carry out deviant behaviors, as well as the possible answers that society can give to them, has a long past in our cultural tradition. Nevertheless, the time during which there has been an effective legal psychology is very short.


Bayes, R., & Munné, F. (1980).Introduction to legal psychology. Editorial Trillas.

Mira i López, E. (1932). Manual of legal psychology. Barcelona: Salvat.

Muñoz Sabaté, L. (1980). The psychological expertise before the Courts.L. Muñoz Sabaté, R. Bayés and F. Munné. Introduction to Legal Psychology. Mexico: Threshing.

Oneca, J. A. (1965). History of the Criminal Code of 1822.Yearbook of criminal law and criminal sciences18(2), 263-278.