Powers of arrest

Who carries powers of arrest?

Under s 24 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) – as amended by the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 – powers of arrest without warrant are held by the police, 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.

Citizen’s arrest

Private citizens may arrest:

  • anybody who is in the act of committing an indictable offence;
  • anybody whom they have reasonable grounds for suspecting to be committing an indictable offence;
  • where an indictable offence has been committed, anybody who is guilty of the offence, or anyone whom they have reasonable grounds for suspecting is guilty of it.

A private citizen may only make an arrest if:

  • it is not reasonably practicable for a constable to make the arrest instead; and
  • they have reasonable grounds to believe it is necessary to arrest someone to stop them:
    • causing physical injury to themselves or any other person;
    • suffering physical injury;
    • causing loss of or damage to property; or
    • making off before a constable can assume responsibility for him/ her.

Police powers of arrest

A constable may arrest without a warrant:

  • anyone who is about to commit an offence;
  • anyone who is in the act of committing an offence;
  • anyone whom they have reasonable grounds for suspecting to be about to commit an offence;
  • anyone whom they have reasonable grounds for suspecting to be committing an offence.

If a constable has reasonable grounds for suspecting that an offence has been committed, they may arrest without a warrant anyone whom they have reasonable grounds to suspect of being guilty of it.

If an offence has been committed, a constable may arrest without a warrant:

  • anyone who is guilty of the offence;
  • anyone whom they have reasonable grounds for suspecting to be guilty of the offence.

An arrest without warrant can only be made if the constable has reasonable grounds for believing it is necessary to arrest someone to:

  • ascertain a suspect’s name or address (ie, if the police officer doesn’t know the person’s name/address; can’t readily find out their name/ address, or reasonably believes that the suspect has given a false name/address);
  • prevent the suspect:
    • causing physical injury to themselves or any other person;
    • suffering physical injury;
    • causing loss of or damage to property;
    • committing an offence against public decency; or
    • causing an unlawful obstruction of the highway;
  • prevent any prosecution for the offence from being hindered by the disappearance of the person in question.
  • protect a child or other vulnerable person from the suspect;
  • allow the prompt and effective investigation of the offence or of the conduct of the suspect.

Arrest procedure

If you’re arrested the police must:

  • identify themselves as the police;
  • tell you that you’re being arrested;
  • tell you what crime they think you’ve committed;
  • explain why it’s necessary to arrest you;
  • explain that you’re not free to leave.

If you’re under 17 the police should only arrest you at school if there’s no other option, and they must inform your headteacher. The police must also contact your parents, guardian or carer as soon as possible after your arrival at the police station.

Reasonable force

Under s 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967 someone making an arrest may ‘use as much force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime, or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders or of persons unlawfully at large’.