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What is a citizen arrest?


As a member of the public, you have the right to make a citizen arrest, regardless if you are police officer or other sworn law enforcement official. The law regarding citizens arrest is complication and open to interpretation.

The law on Citizen Arrest can be found under Section 24A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE). Fortunately, this article outlines the basic principles of citizen arrests.

The law states:

  • Anybody can arrest someone who has committed an indictable offence.
  • Anybody can arrest a person if they have reasonable grounds to suspect that they have committed an indictable offence.

Although, reasonable grounds will be assessed objectively – not according to the person who’s making the arrest. An individual is only allowed to make a citizen arrest when it is not reasonably practical for a police constable to make the arrest, and it is necessary because the person is either:

  • Causing physical injury to themselves or others
  • Suffering physical injury
  • Causing damage or loss of property
  • Escaping before a police constable can take responsibility of them


Indictable Offences
What exactly is an indictable offence? It is an offence that is not too serious and that may be trialled in the Crown Court, this involves offences such as: violent assaults and burglary. However, it may not be apparent if the person behaviour or conduct amounts to an indictable offence – therefore anyone contemplating on making a citizen arrest needs to carefully assess the situation before making the arrest.

If you have witnessed a serious crime and you think they will make a move to escape quickly before the police arrive, you should do what you can to get immediate help from the police before considering a citizen’s arrest.

Although, this can be difficult when time is of the essence, but if the person making the arrest acted reasonably within the given circumstances there should be no repercussions. If the person making the arrest did not act reasonably in making the arrest, they could face a civil claim from the individual concerned, and/or criminal charges.

Making a Citizen Arrest
If you intend to make a citizen arrest, you must inform the person what you are doing and give appropriate reasons why. You must also tell them what office you believe they have comitted. If you have to use force when arresting the person, you must only use reasonable force.

Once the arrest has been made, the individual apprehended must be taken to a magistrate or police station, otherwise the arrest will not be legally valid. You will also be required to make a statement and you could well be called upon as a witness if the individual is prosecuted.

Police Community Support Officers and Citizen’s Arrests
The Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) and store detectives use this right to make citizen arrest in the course of their employment. If a PCSO or a store detective arrests you, they will be required and must be able to show that the arrest satisfied the legal criteria set out in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE).

Other Considerations
First of all, you should not put yourself or anybody else in danger – even if the suspected criminal has the chance to escape. Instead, you should call the Police on 999 and leave the search and arrest to them.

The legal implications of making a citizen arrest is very complicated, not least because of the provisions that the person making the arrest must act reasonably. However, one difficulty is what constitutes “reasonable suspicion” and “reasonable force.”

Although, the court look favourably on members of the public who are seeking to assert their rights and protect other citizens, the risk is that someone executing a citizen arrest could face arrest and/or civil litigation if the arrest was unlawful or goes wrong.

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