As you go about your day to day life there may be incidents where you or a member of the public will have to intervene in order to prevent a crime from being committed. Some of these interventions prove successful while others result in the person intervening becoming the victim of crime themselves. Citizens arrest should not be taken lightly and you should never attempt to make a citizens arrest if you believe that there is a danger to yourself or others.
It is always recommended to leave it to the police but sometimes this is not possible depending on the situation and the criminal justice system recognises this.
The law surrounding detaining an individual is certainly not straightforward. The detention of an individual is on its own unlawful. Statutory powers for any member of the public throughout England and Wales will allow them to detain an individual provided that they are considered to be involved in criminal activities.
The law relating to a citizens arrest can be found in Section 24A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Legislation however, is very complicated and often open to interpretation.
Citizens Arrest Law defines citizens arrest and can be applied when;
- An indictable offence is being committed
- There are reasonable suspicions that an indictable offence is being committed
- An indictable offence has already been committed
While this may seem quite straightforward, there are rules as to when a citizen’s arrest can be made;
- The individual can only be arrested by a citizen if it’s not practical for the police to carry out the arrest
- A citizen’s arrest is required because the individual is harming themselves or others, suffering from an injury, damaging property or escaping before the police can take them into custody.
What is an Indictable Offence?
An indictable offence is not easy to determine, particularly in an unforeseen situation. Anyone who is thinking of effecting a citizen’s arrest should therefore carefully review the circumstances before attempting to make an arrest.
Typical offences which can be taken to a Crown Court include burglary, theft or criminal damage.
The term indictable offence relates to an offence committed by an adult that can be taken to trial. Some offences such as criminal damage will only result in a summary trial unless the damage is over £5,000. Breaking a window is therefore not an offence for which you can make a citizen’s arrest.
There aren’t any definitive rules as to how an individual can make a citizen’s arrest but as a general rule;
- The individual being arrested must be informed that you are making a citizen’s arrest as soon as possible
- The individual must be told why they are being arrested
- The offender must be informed of the offence that you think that they have committed
- Reasonable force can be used during the arrest
After the individual has been arrested, they should be taken to the police station or Magistrate. If they are not, the arrest is not valid. A statement will be required by the person who made the arrest and if the case proceeds to court you may be asked to stand as a witness.
A broader set of common laws also applies to civilians where there is a breach of the peace. Although it is not technically a crime, breach of the peace can relate to a citizen’s arrest if harm is being caused or is likely to be caused to a person or property or whether an individual fears that they may be harmed through riot, assault, unlawful assembly, affray or any other kind of disturbance.
Citizens may carry out a citizen’s arrest in these situations provided that;
- The breach of the peace has been committed in their presence
- The person effecting the arrest has reason to believe that a breach will be committed in the immediate future by the individual being arrested
- A breach of the peace has been committed or the individual making the arrest believes that a breach of the peace has already happened and a further breach is threatened
If the case proceeds to court, they will determine whether the actions of the person making the arrest were reasonable given the circumstances at the time of arrest.
If you do decide to intervene when there is a breach of the peace, you should do so with caution and ensure that there is no possibility of a police officer addressing the situation. In any situation it is always best to call the police and if you do make a citizen’s arrest, transfer the offender to the police as soon as possible.
It is always worth bearing in mind that you should not try to act alone when making a citizen’s arrest because sometimes the individual being arrested may allege that you have assaulted them or caused them harm in some way. Any video or sound recordings of the situation would be very beneficial so too would a statement from someone else who also witnessed the incident may be helpful when it comes to explaining to the police what happened and why you stepped in to make the citizen’s arrest.
During a citizen’s arrest you must be able to demonstrate that you did not use unreasonable force. If you are effecting an arrest you are permitted to restrain the individual. However there is something of a grey area about what the phrase ‘reasonable’ means. As a consequence, the reasonableness of force to detain the individual will be assessed on a case by case basis where the circumstances will be carefully reviewed.
Since the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, the term ‘citizen’s arrest’ is no longer applicable after the statutory idea of an arrestable offence was abolished. Constables may now arrest for any offence when it is appropriate to do so. The most recent legislation created Section 24A as an addition to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 which enables an individual other than a police officer to arrest without a warrant in certain situations. Arrests must however be indictable.
Where damage is caused and the value is under £5,000, this is not deemed to be an indictable offence.
A Police Community Support Office (PCSO) or a security officer in a store is able to make a citizen’s arrest in some areas of their work. If a security officer or PCSO effects an arrest, they must be able to demonstrate that it was lawful and the arrest fits in with lawful criteria.
The Crown Prosecution Service encourages citizens to act responsibly in certain situations, but they are not permitted to take matters into their own hands and apply the law themselves. If the Crown Prosecution Service decides to prosecute an individual who has carried out a citizen’s arrest they will try to strike a balance between acting responsibly and taking the law into their own hands.
Even if there is a suggestion that the amount of force used was unreasonable, the CPS will carefully consider bringing a prosecution against the individual. This is because the CPS is very reluctant to prosecute individuals because of the public benefit provided by those who are willing to make a citizen’s arrest when a crime is being committed.
Before making a citizen’s arrest you should carefully review the situation. It is not advised to make the arrest if you are putting yourself or others in danger. In this instance, the best thing to do is to call the police and wait for assistance. Citizens arrests are effective provided that they are carried out properly, with reasonable force and provided that they fit in with citizen’s arrest law.