Citizen’s Arrests – UK Law: Know Your Rights!

Citizen’s Arrests – UK Law: Know Your Rights!

How To Make A Citizen’s Arrest – UK Law

Sadly, these days we cannot always rely on a police presence when a crime is taking place, nor their swift attendance in the event of one. Major budget cuts and redundancies have seen police numbers in London and across the UK slashed. Therefore, an element of vigilantism has been established on our streets – and quite rightly so! With brave members of the public stepping up and taking it upon themselves to confront and apprehend suspected criminals – conducting a ‘Citizens Arrest’.

It is completely legal and possible for a member of the public to arrest a suspected criminal, by performing a Citizen’s Arrest. But you must be very careful not to act outside of the law, or find yourself being arrested too. What exactly does the law state about this, and how far do your rights extend? This article will help explain exactly where you stand.

Can you perform a citizen’s arrest on someone for not wearing a face mask?

With new legislation in place from today (Friday 24th July 2020) it is now compulsory for people to wear face masks in confined public spaces. Public spaces include supermarkets, indoor shopping centres, post offices, banks and transport hubs. The aim is to help reduce contamination and the spread of COVID-19.

There are a few exceptions to this rule, the same exemptions applied to public transport. So, children under the age of 11 and people with breathing difficulties are not required to wear a mask. Also, anyone who cannot physically put on, wear, or remove a face mask because of a physical or mental impairment or disability is exempt. Anyone else breaching this rule faces a fine of £100.

The Police Federation has announced that the police cannot spend their time patrolling areas to enforce this rule. Met Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick has said that police in London would only enforce the wearing of coverings in shops “as a last resort”. For example, if people not wearing a covering refused to leave a shop or became “aggressive”.

Shop managers and retail security guards have been advised to refuse entry to anyone not wearing a face mask. Shop staff and security guards can already detain shoplifters while waiting for the police to arrive. So, can staff or other members of the public arrest someone who is not wearing a face covering?

Well, the general power of the citizen’s arrest is only exercisable to apprehend criminals committing offences that would go before a judge and jury. A penalty ticket for being socially obnoxious would not cross that high bar. So the answer is no. You cannot perform a citizen’s arrest on someone for not wearing a face mask in public. If you did try and physically touched another person, you would be committing assault. You could be arrested and detained by the other person or the police.

Furthermore, it is possible that challenging someone who is not wearing a face-covering could be a breach of the Equality Act 2010. In fact, the latest Government guidance is for the general public not to challenge those not wearing a face covering. The guidance is that “Those who have an age, health or disability reason for not wearing a face-covering should not be routinely asked to give any written evidence of this, this includes exemption cards. No person needs to seek advice or request a letter from a medical professional about their reason for not wearing a face-covering.” 


Citizen’s Arrest – The Starting Point

The law surrounding a Citizen’s Arrest in the UK is set out in Section 24A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984. It states that a person can legally arrest 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.”

At the most basic level, anyone can perform an arrest if they either know or reasonably believe, that an individual is in the process of committing a crime. You can also perform a Citizen’s Arrest if you reasonably believe that a crime has already been committed by said individual.

However, the law is not that simple, and there are several aspects of the law that you need to know before carrying out an arrest to ensure that it is lawful.

Categories of Offences

In English and Welsh Law, there are three types of offences: Summary offences and Indictable offences.

Summary offences are less serious; they are tried in a Magistrates Court and include road traffic offences, minor assaults, and offensive behaviour.

Indictable offences are more serious; these are tried at a Crown Court in front of a Judge and Jury and include aggravated burglary, murder and indecent assault.

In order for your Citizen’s Arrest to be lawful, the offence that you believe has been, or is being, committed has to fall within the Indictable category.

Prerequisites for An Arrest

There are two other main rules that you will have to follow in order to perform a lawful Citizen’s Arrest. The first is regarding the police; under S24 of the PACE Act 1984, you most believe at the time of the arrest that it is not reasonably practical for a Police officer to perform the arrest.

This rule exists to ensure that the Police remain the main law enforcement institution – without this rule, the Police would risk being undermined by allowing any individual to make arrests, even when a Police Officer is present; citizens should not have the same powers of arrest as the Police.

handcuffs for citizens arrest

Reasonable Belief

The second main rule regarding Citizen’s Arrests concerns the meaning of ‘reasonable belief’, which is mentioned often in the legal definition.

The citizen must reasonably believe that the arrest is necessary to prevent one of the following:

In terms of what will be viewed as reasonable, the decision will be made on an objective basis. This means that the citizen’s actions will be assessed in comparison to expectations of how a fair, honest and reasonable person would act, rather than being decided based on the citizens own perception of the situation.

Regarding the reasonableness of the force used to arrest someone, you only need to prove that you acted in a way you honestly and instinctively believed was necessary for the specific situation. The law does not expect you to be able to make fine judgements in the heat of the moment.

Restraining and Detaining

This article has explained when you have the right to initiate a Citizen’s Arrest – but what rights do you have to physically restrain them?

Section 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967 states that: ‘a person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime, or in the effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders, or of persons unlawfully at large.’

The European Court of Human Rights also allows force to be used to ‘prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained’. So clearly, you are allowed to restrain and detain someone, using reasonable force, to prevent them from escaping.

But the reasonableness of your actions in restraining and/or detaining is something to be taken very seriously – if your actions are deemed to be unreasonable, it could, in fact, be you who faces criminal charges. There have been cases in the past were a suspect is taken back to the home of the citizen in order to restrain and detain them, only for the citizen to be charged with kidnapping! Likewise, if later evidence suggests the force used was not reasonable, it could lead to a charge of assault or battery for the citizen.

Evidently, the decision to make a Citizen’s Arrest is not to be taken lightly, given the risks it poses to the Citizen.

A Few Other Rules to Consider

Hopefully, this article has helped you learn everything you need to know about how to perform a lawful Citizen’s Arrest – should you ever need to. Let’s hope that day never arrives, but you never know!