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Can I make a citizen's arrest?

What is a 'citizen's arrest'?

An arrest is best left to the police. However, the law accepts  that this is not always possible - hence, the law of 'citizen's arrest'.

The law of citizen's arrest starts with the premise that detaining another person is unlawful in itself.  

In England and Wales, the power to detain a person suspected of involvement in criminal activity is a statutory power laid down in section 24A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1974.

A person "other than a constable" may arrest without a warrant anyone:

"who is in the act of committing an indictable offence; or whom the person has reasonable grounds to suspect is committing an indictable offence."

What is an indictable offence?

An indictable offence is one that is heard in a Crown Court and tried by a jury.

The law does not publish an exhaustive list of indictable offences. However, examples that are most likely to be encountered by the general public include:

  • theft
  • burglary
  • criminal damage
  • assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

When can a citizen's arrest be made?

A citizen's arrest can only be effected in circumstances where it does not appear reasonably practicable for a police constable to make the arrest and the person making the arrest has reasonable grounds to believe that such an arrest is necessary to prevent the person being arrested from:

a) causing physical injury to himself or another person

b) causing loss of (or damage) to property

c) fleeing before a constable can take charge of them.

How should a citizen's arrest be done?

A person performing a citizen's arrest should advise the suspect what is happening as soon as reasonably practicable, explaining:

  • that they are being arrested
  • the reason(s) for their arrest
  • the offence the suspect is believed to have committed.

A citizen's arrest can only be carried out exercising reasonable force (which is a matter of degree).

What other factors should be taken into account when making a citizen's arrest?

Other factors that should be considered when making a citizen's arrest include:

  • the potential for civil litigation: whilst the courts are somewhat sympathetic to upstanding citizens in pursuit of being public-spirited, a citizen's arrest is not a vigilante's charter, therefore the incorrect use of the rights and powers associated with a citizen's arrest could potentially result in an unlawful arrest and/or false imprisonment suit.
  • danger: a person contemplating a citizen's arrest should not proceed to do so if they feel that they would be putting themselves or another person in danger. The preferred option would be to dial 999.

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