Can making a citizen’s arrest land you in trouble with the law?

Posted on 20 Jul 2017

The recent coverage of members of the public taking on alleged criminals can raise our community spirit and encourage people to be more socially active, however it is vital to know what you can and can’t do when it comes tackling and apprehending the bad guys.  

Hannah Parsons, Principal Associate Solicitor at DAS Law tells you what you need to know.

What are members of the public allowed to do and not do when it comes to apprehending or detaining criminals?

Citizens are encouraged to assist in the prevention and investigation of crime where it is responsibly done and in the public spirit. A citizen may only use reasonable and proportionate force to apprehend or detain a person if there is no possibility of a police officer doing this instead. The purpose is to uphold the law rather than taking the law into their own hands for the purposes of revenge, retribution or vigilantism.

There is no specific wording to use when making a citizen’s arrest. However you must inform the person you are arresting of what you are doing, why you are doing it and what offence you believe they have committed as soon as possible. You can only use reasonable force throughout this process. You should call and deliver the person to the police immediately.

Could someone get into trouble with the authorities for making a citizen’s arrest?

Whilst the courts are sympathetic to citizens acting in the public spirit and exercising their powers and rights, there is the potential for personal prosecution or a civil litigation claim if they are perceived to have overstepped the boundaries of what is reasonable and proportionate. If the powers and rights are used incorrectly, a person could find themselves having to defend a claim for assault, unlawful restraint, wrongful arrest and/or false imprisonment.

Are people allowed to use force to detain someone who is trying to flee?

A citizen may only use reasonable and proportionate force to detain a person if there is no possibility of a police officer doing this instead. The amount of force must be reasonable and necessary and this will depend on the facts surrounding each individual case.  There is a fine line between reasonable force and assault so if a citizen decides to intervene, they would need to do so carefully.

Could someone be held legally accountable if an alleged criminal is injured during a citizen’s arrest?

If an alleged criminal is injured during a citizen’s arrest, there is a risk of personal prosecution for assault or civil litigation for a personal injury claim.

It would not be advisable to act alone as the alleged criminal may later accuse you of assault and it could ultimately become one word against the other. Witness evidence, video or sound recording would be beneficial in these circumstances if having to justify your actions to the police or the crown prosecution service.

What is a citizen’s arrest and is it legal?

A person other than a Police Officer may arrest a person without a warrant in certain circumstances. Section 24A of The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 provides that:

This power is conditional as long as there are reasonable grounds to believe the arrest is necessary and it is not reasonably practicable for a police officer to make the arrest

An indictable offence is one that can be tried in a Crown Court, in front of a jury. They are normally the most serious of offences but examples can include substantial criminal damage, robbery and assault occasioning actual bodily harm.