What powers do the police have to arrest and detain me?

Police powers of arrest

The police have the authority to make an arrest with or without a warrant.

An arrest with a warrant

Under s 1 of the Magistrates Court Act 1980, if someone has, or is suspected of having, committed an offence, a magistrate may issue: a summons requiring them to appear before a magistrates’ court; or a warrant to arrest that person and bring them before a magistrates’ court.

The application for the warrant must include, in writing, details of the person to be arrested along with the particulars of the offence they have allegedly committed. A warrant will only be issued if the offence is an indictable one or is punishable with imprisonment, or the person’s address is not sufficiently established for a summons to be served on them.

If the magistrates’ court grants the warrant, the police have permission from the court to enter and search premises to make that arrest, with, under s 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967, the use of reasonable force if necessary.

An arrest without a warrant

The Serious Organised Crime Act 2005 gave the police greater powers to make an arrest without an arrest warrant. A police officer now has the power to arrest anyone they reasonably believe has committed an offence, is in the process of committing an offence or is about to commit an offence.

The police have grounds for making an arrest 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 they have given a false name/ address);
  • prevent the suspect:
    • causing physical injury to himself/ herself 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.

What is a citizen’s arrest?

Private citizens may arrest:

  • anybody who is in the act of committing an indictable offence;
  • anybody with 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 them.

The police power to detain a suspect

If you’re arrested and taken to the police station, you must be told your rights by the custody officer. These are the right to:

  • have someone informed of your arrest;
  • free legal advice;
  • view the police Code of Practice;
  • medical attention if you’re feeling ill;
  • see a written notice telling you about your rights (eg, regular breaks for food and to use the toilet).

For most offences the police may only detain you for a maximum of 24 hours without charging you. This can be extended with permission from an officer with the rank of superintendent or above (an extra 12 hours) or a magistrate (up to a maximum of 96 hours). You can be held without charge for up to 28 days if you’re arrested under the Terrorism Act.

If you’re not charged with an offence by the time the maximum time has expired, the police must release you.

Article written by...
Lucy Trevelyan LLB
Lucy Trevelyan LLB

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Lucy graduated in law from the University of Greenwich, and is also an NCTJ trained journalist. A legal writer and editor with over 20 years' experience writing about the law.