Citizen’s Arrest: Best to Leave Well Alone?

Under s.24A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (as amended by the Serious Organised Crime Act 2005), it states that a member of the public may perform a citizen’s arrest on a person who is expected to be in the middle of committing an indictable offence, or when there are reasonable grounds to believe that the person is about to commit such an offence, or when the person has already done so.

In other words, an individual member of the public can only arrest another person if they have committed an offence that would be deemed as serious. Indictable offences are those that would be passed on to the Crown Court for trial by jury, as the Magistrates’ Court would not have the power to try such a crime.

Cases that are tried solely in Magistrates’ Court are known as summary offences, and unless the member of the public fervently believes that the individual is causing physical injury to himself or another person, is causing loss of or damage to property, or has made off before a constable could assume responsibility, they would not be permitted to perform a citizen’s arrest. This is the part that most members of the public fail to realise and is the reason that many well-intentioned citizens see themselves landed in hotter water than the original perpetrator of the crime.

The moral of this article is to stress that, unless you have a clear enough understanding of what constitutes an indictable offence, you really should refrain from carrying out a citizen’s arrest. This is something that a gentleman from Hertfordshire has very recently learnt to his cost.

A number of youths were throwing apples at him and his wife, and he therefore apprehended one of the youths by twisting his arm behind his back and carrying out a citizen’s arrest. This was believed to be unreasonable force and is the main reason that Mr. Digby was actually charged with common assault.

Numerous calls to the police were ignored and several days later, Mr. Digby was arrested.

This gentleman is absolutely furious and maintains that the current laws do not provide ordinary citizens with any protection from the growing menace attributed to the youths of today. Youths have been able to get away with destructive and dangerous behaviour, and Mr. Digby now faces the prospect of a criminal record.

This is definitely a very difficult situation. While many of us strongly believe that we should have the right to carry out citizen’s arrests under similar circumstances, the law is entirely right to stipulate that a proportionate amount of force should only ever be used. Gone are the days when an adult could clip a child across the ear for wrongdoing; nowadays they will certainly face a criminal record for such actions.

With the classification of offences changing from time to time, this will inevitably mean that people will not generally have a good appreciation of what constitutes an indictable offence. Trials by jury in the Crown Court are very expensive to the tax payer; therefore, the government downgrades indictable offences on a regular basis in an attempt to save more and more money.

The best piece of advice would be for members of the public to hold back when it comes to making a citizen’s arrest. If you are sure you have witnessed the perpetrator committing an indictable offence, you should only use as much force as is necessary to carry out the arrest. Remember, laws are in place to protect the perpetrator of a crime and you do not want to be on the sticky end of those laws.

If you would like to learn more about criminal law, the Institute provides an excellent Single Subject Criminal Law course. Please contact us for details.