Powers of Arrest

What is an arrest?

An arrestable offence is an offence where the sentence is fixed by law, for example murder because this carries a fixed sentence of life imprisonment or any other offence for which the maximum sentence that could be given to an adult is at least five years.

Who carries powers of arrest?

Powers of arrest are obviously held by the police, but they are also held by private citizens.

The police have more powers to actually arrest people but private citizens also have the right to perform what is known as a “citizen’s arrest” when they feel the need to do so.

The powers of arrest are not something to be abused by the police or by a public citizen and are powers that should only be used responsibly.

Private Citizens powers of arrest

Private Citizens may arrest:

  • Anybody who is in the act of committing an arrestable offence
  • Anybody with whom they have reasonable grounds for suspecting to be committing an arrestable offence
  • Where an arrestable offence has been committed, anybody who is guilty of the offence, or anyone whom they have reasonable grounds for suspecting.

It is important to note that when a private citizen is going to arrest anybody with whom they have reasonable grounds for suspecting to be committing an arrestable offence – they must actually have reasonable grounds for suspecting, they cannot perform a citizen’s arrest on the basis of gossip or lies.

Police powers of arrest

The police can make an arrest when they are authorised to do so by a warrant naming a person to be arrested and when there is a right of arrest for breach of the peace.

The Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984 gives police the general rights to arrest during certain circumstances involving arrestable offences.

Section 24 of PACE allows an arrest without a warrant in the following circumstances:

  • Where the suspect has committed or is in the act of committing an arrestable offence
  • Where an arrestable offence has been or is being committed and there are reasonable grounds for suspecting the person arrested (this applies even if it later proven that that person did not commit the offence)
  • Where there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that an arrestable offence has been committed (again even if it later emerges that no crime was committed) and there are reasonable grounds for suspecting the person arrested.
  • Where the suspect is about to commit an arrestable offence for example a burglary
  • Where there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that the person arrested was about to commit an arrestable offence 

Section 25 of PACE

Section 25 of PACE allows the police to arrest for any offence where:

  • The name and address of the suspect cannot be obtained
  • There are reasonable grounds for believing that the name and address given by the suspect are false
  • There are reasonable grounds for believing that the suspect cause injury to themselves, other people or will cause damage to property.
  • The arrest is reasonably believed to be necessary to protect a vulnerable person or a child