Citizen’s arrest

What is a citizen’s arrest?

A citizen’s arrest is an arrest by an individual who is not a police officer or other sworn law enforcement official. The law regarding citizen’s arrest is complicated and open to interpretation.

The law is found under section 24A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE). We set out the basic principles of citizen’s arrests.

The law states:

  • Anybody can arrest a person who is committing an indictable offence.
  • Anybody can arrest a person if they have reasonable grounds to suspect that they are committing an indictable offence.

Reasonable grounds will be assessed objectively – not according to the subjective viewpoint of the person making the arrest. An individual may only make a citizens 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

An indictable offence is an offence that is at least relatively serious, and may be tried in the Crown Court, such as violent assaults and burglary. However, it may well not be apparent at the time whether the person’s behaviour or conduct amounts to an indictable offence – so anyone contemplating making a citizen’s arrest needs to carefully assess the situation before acting.

So, if you believe you are witnessing a serious crime, such as a burglary, and you think they will make moves 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.

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For more information on:

  • Making a citizen’s arrest
  • Police Community Support Officers and citizen’s arrests
  • Other considerations