On paper, we're 'all' coppers.
Let's go to work
In England and Wales, any member of the public has the power to make an arrest (under Section 24A of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005). In reality, collaring someone bang to rights isn't always going to persuade a criminal to come quietly, but you are still entitled to give it a go under the following circumstances:
- If you witness an indictable offence taking place - you witness someone in the act of breaking certain laws, you are entitled to intervene.
- If you know someone is guilty of an indictable offence - your housemate admits that he buried the landlord under the patio. He has a wild look in his eye, and there's blood all over his hands. Nick him.
The important word his is 'indictable'. It means an offence that is, or could be, tried in a crown court.
You can't make an arrest simply because you suspect someone is guilty of a crime, or about to commit an arrestable offence - however dodgy they may look. It doesn't matter how good your intentions are, if it turns out there was no crime, it could be you who ends up on the wrong side of the law. If the event happens in a public place, you could be sued for defamation.
If you've made an arrest, make sure the offender knows why. He must then be taken before a Magistrate or a police station, otherwise the arrest won't stand up in court. In practise, make sure you alert a police officer at the earliest opportunity. Later, you'll be required to make a full statement, and possibly also appear as a witness in court. So make sure you stay true to the facts.
Be careful out there!
Your right to make a citizen's arrest is not as important as your need to stay safe. If you think that collaring a criminal is going to put you in any kind of danger, back off and call the cops instead.
Should you choose to make a citizen's arrest, be aware that you are only allowed to use reasonable force to do so, which could be determined in a court of law. Put simply, it means you can't steam in with your fists if the offender offers no resistance, and nor should you overdo it when apprehending someone for a trivial offence. If you do, you could lay yourself open to a charge of assault.
Should you make a citizen's arrest, and the offender disputes the circumstances, you may need legal representation. Visit Community Legal Advice for more info.
Scotland and Northern Ireland
There is no legal definition of a citizens arrest in Scotland, however common law states that anyone committing an offence can be detained using the minimum force necessary in the circumstances.
In Northern Ireland, the situation is similar to England and Wales, under section 26A the Police and Criminal Evidence (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 2007.
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