Citizen’s Arrest

Citizen’s Arrest in the United Kingdom: An Overview 

In the United Kingdom, a citizen’s arrest, otherwise known as an ‘any person arrest’, refers to a legal provision in the UK that allows a non-law enforcement individual to arrest another person.

This power, though rarely applied, is enshrined in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA). It permits ordinary citizens to intervene and arrest a person when they believe an indictable crime has been committed, thereby assisting in maintaining law and order in society. 

Outside of SOCPA there are other national and local laws that regulates Citizen’s Arrest in the UK.

Citizen's Arrest in the UK

Conditions for a Citizen’s Arrest in the UK

Under the SOCPA, a lawful citizen’s arrest can only be enacted under specific circumstances. This includes when an individual is in the act of committing an offence, when an individual is suspected of being about to commit an offence, or when an indictable offence, which is a serious crime triable by a judge and jury, has been committed and there’s reasonable ground to suspect the person to be guilty of it.

Furthermore, it’s crucial to establish that it would not be reasonably practicable for a constable to make the arrest instead, and the arrestor has reasonable grounds to believe that the arrest is necessary to prevent the suspect from causing physical injury to himself or others, suffering physical injury, causing loss or damage to property, or making off before a constable can assume responsibility for him. 

Is a Citizen´s Arrest only Lawful for a British Citizen?

Despite the name “Citizen´s Arrest”, one does not have to be a British Citizen to carry out a lawful Citizen´s Arrest in the UK. In formal texts, you are more likely to see the term “any person´s arrest” instead, since that removes the potential for confusion. Any person in the UK have the right to carry out this type of arrest in accordance with applicable law, regardless of their citizenship.

Legal Risks

While a citizen’s arrest is legal, it carries significant risks and potential legal implications. If the arrest is incorrectly or improperly administered, the arrestor could face civil or criminal charges, such as false imprisonment or assault. It is therefore advised to avoid using excessive force, as this can potentially escalate the situation and may lead to charges of assault. 

Moreover, if the arrestor misinterprets the situation or makes an error of judgment, they might be sued for false arrest. This is why it is generally recommended to leave law enforcement to the professionals unless there is an immediate threat to personal safety or property and there are no other options available.

If you find yourself in a situation where a citizen’s arrest is warranted, it’s important to tread with caution. Approach the suspected offender calmly and inform them that you are making a citizen’s arrest. You should also explain the offence you believe they have committed. Next, contact the police immediately. Your main aim should be to contain the situation until the police arrive.


In the United Kingdom, the concept of citizen´s arrest dates back to medieval England and English common law. Back then, English sheriffs would encourage ordinary people (people who were not sworn law-enforcement officials) to help apprehend law breakers.

From English commmon law, the concept spread to other parts of the British Isles, and also throughout the British Empire.

Is there still a special provision regarding poachers?

No, poachers now fall under the general provisions for a citizen´s arrest. Until 2006, there was an “any person” power of arrest specifically related to poachers in the Theft Act 1968 in England and Wales. This privison was utilized by private water bailiffs. The provision ceased to be in effect after the general repeal of these arrest powers by the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005.

Note: Environment Agency bailiffs work under different rules than private water bailiffs.

Key Takeaways 

While a citizen’s arrest is a powerful legal tool for ordinary citizens, it is one that should be used sparingly and with great caution. It’s essential to fully understand the legal prerequisites and potential repercussions before attempting such an arrest. In all cases, it’s advisable to report crimes to the police and let them handle the situation. After all, they have the training and experience to deal with such situations.

In conclusion, the concept of a citizen’s arrest forms part of the wider law enforcement framework in the UK. It empowers ordinary citizens in exceptional circumstances, reinforcing the collective responsibility we all share in maintaining a safe and orderly society. However, this power must be exercised responsibly and within the boundaries of the law.

This article was last updated on: June 6, 2024