What Is A Citizen’s Arrest?

Posted: 12 Feb, 2018.

A citizen’s arrest is made when a member of the public apprehends a suspect and detains them until the police arrive to formally arrest them. This may be necessary in situations where a person is behaving in a violent or aggressive manner, causing a threat to themselves or the safety of others around them.

Legally anyone can carry out a citizen’s arrest, but there are a number of guidelines you must follow when doing so to avoid getting into trouble yourself.

Section 24A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) states that an individual can perform an arrest on somebody they suspect of committing an indicatable offence. This applies to serious offences that can be tried in a Crown Court, for example assault, burglary or criminal damage.

You can arrest somebody to prevent them:

  • Causing physical injury to themselves or someone else
  • Suffering a physical injury
  • Causing loss or damage to property
  • Attempting to get away before a Police officer arrives to assume responsibility of them

Under common law if a breach of the peace has occurred or if there are reasonable grounds to suggest one could, then a citizen’s arrest can also be made, however this does not apply in Scotland.

It’s vital to make absolutely certain you have appropriate reason to make the arrest, as arresting someone who is found innocent can leave you open to being charged with unlawful arrest or false imprisonment.

Advice on making a citizen’s arrest

Before attempting the arrest consider the following points:

  • Assess the situation – can you physically restrain the individual? It is safe for you to do so? Consider if the individual could possibly be concealing a weapon that could cause you harm
  • Is there a police officer nearby? If so it’s best to leave it to the professionals – don’t try and be a ‘hero’ as you could end up getting hurt yourself. If you attempt to arrest somebody and an officer is present, you should only do this if they cannot reasonably perform the arrest themselves
  • Can you reason with the individual involved? Only use a citizen’s arrest as a last resort, if there’s immediate danger or if the suspect may try to flee
  • Get someone else to assist you if possible to help with restraint – it can be dangerous to attempt an arrest if alone. It’s also advisable to have a witness to back up your side of the story
  • Take photos or videos of the crime beforehand as evidence – this further supports your reasoning
  • Explain to the individual that you are making a citizen’s arrest and why – you must tell them the offence you believe they have committed, although there is no need for specific wording like the police use when placing someone under arrest

Always remember:

  • Only ever use reasonable force, this can be defined as ‘the amount of force needed to protect oneself or one’s property’, although in UK law there’s no specific definition of this as it depends on the situation
  • Using excessive force can lead to you being accused of assault yourself
  • When performing a citizen’s arrest, you are not permitted to use handcuffs
  • Citizens do not have the same powers of arrest as the Police

Most importantly, you should consider your own safety and never attempt to arrest someone if this puts yourself at serious risk of harm. If you encounter situations where you are faced with aggressive behaviour on a regular basis, it’s advisable to carry a personal alarm for your own protection. One of the key benefits of some alarms is that they allow audio to be recorded which can be used as evidence. Find out more about personal safety devices.


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