How To Make A Citizen’s Arrest – UK Law
As featured on Forbes.com
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 has 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 ‘Citizen’s Arrest’.
It is completely legal and possible for a member of the public or security guard 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:
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 (PACE) Act 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 and include: road traffic offences, minor assaults, and offensive behaviour. They are only tried in a Magistrates’ Court, there is no Jury, the Judge decides innocence or guilt.
- Either way offences can be dealt with in a Magistrates’ or Crown court. A person charged with an either way offence must first appear before a Magistrates’ and submit their plea. The Magistrates’ will decide to sentence or send to trial at the Crown court if their sentencing powers are deemed insufficient for the seriousness of the case (Maximum 6 months, upto 12 months if 2 or more offences). Offences include: Theft, burglary and Assault occasioning actual bodily harm (ABH).
- Indictable offences are the most serious offences including: Murder, Manslaughter, Rape and Robbery. A person charged with an indictable offence must first appear before the Magistrates’ court, the case will immediately be referred to the Crown court. If the case proceeds to trial, it will be a Jury that decides the defendant’s innocence or guilt, the Judge will decide on their sentence.
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 (which includes either way offences). Put simply: a serious offence!
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.
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:
- The person causing injury to themselves or others
- The person suffering physical injury
- The person causing loss or damage of property
- The person escaping before a police officer can assume responsibility for them.
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 in the specific situation. The law does not expect you to be able to make fine judgements in the heat of the moment.
Physically 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.
Further rules to consider
- You need to inform the individual that you are performing a Citizen’s Arrest on them, as soon as reasonably possible, you must also tell them the offence that you suspect they were involved in committing.
- You can’t make a Citizen’s arrest in relation to offences of stirring up racial hatred.
- You also can’t make a Citizen’s arrest in a polling station of someone who is, or you reasonably believe is, impersonating someone else.
Above all, you must consider your personal safety and security – do not place yourself in harms way, only ever perform a citizen’s arrest if you’re 100% confident that you will be successful in apprehending the suspect without injury or harm to yourself. 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!
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