The law on citizens arrest is here and summarised by the police here:

  1. How do I know if I can make a citizens arrest?

You can make an arrest if the suspect is actually committing the offence or if you reasonably suspect them of committing it, or when the offence has been committed and you reasonably suspect them of having committed it.

There is no specific wording to use when making a citizens arrest. However you must inform the person you are arresting as soon as possible what you are doing, why you are doing it and what offence you believe the person has committed.

Suppose one is physically restrained by security guards, similar to that in this news story. At no point during the restraint do they inform you they are arresting you, why they are doing it and what offence they believe you to have committed. After the 20 seconds or so that is shown here, you say "I am performing a citizen's arrest upon you. You are committing assault upon me and it is necessary to arrest you to prevent physical injury to myself". Also assume that you have committed no offence, you sincerely believe that the security guards have and you are in immediate risk of physical injury.

What is the legal situation at this point? Are the security guard required to submit to arrest?

2 Answers 2


Why do you think two people cannot arrest each other?

If I "reasonably suspect" you of committing an offence (shoplifting) and you "reasonably suspect" me of committing an offence (assault), we can each arrest the other. As a practical matter, either or both of us can submit to the (alleged) arrest or resist the (alleged) arrest.

Whether either, both, or neither of us is right will be for the courts to decide at a latter date.

  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Law Meta, or in Law Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Dale M
    May 11, 2023 at 21:35

At statute law (24A Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984):

24A Arrest without warrant: other persons

(1) A person other than a constable may arrest without a warrant—

(a) anyone who is in the act of committing an indictable offence;

(b) anyone whom he has reasonable grounds for suspecting to be committing an indictable offence.

(2) Where an indictable offence has been committed, a person other than a constable may arrest without a warrant—

(a) anyone who is guilty of the offence;

(b) anyone whom he has reasonable grounds for suspecting to be guilty of it.

(3) But the power of summary arrest conferred by subsection (1) or (2) is exercisable only if—

(a) the person making the arrest has reasonable grounds for believing that for any of the reasons mentioned in subsection (4) it is necessary to arrest the person in question; and

(b) it appears to the person making the arrest that it is not reasonably practicable for a constable to make it instead.

(4) The reasons are to prevent the person in question—

(a) causing physical injury to himself or any other person;

(b) suffering physical injury;

(c) causing loss of or damage to property; or

(d) making off before a constable can assume responsibility for him.

[F2(5) This section does not apply in relation to an offence under Part 3 or 3A of the Public Order Act 1986.]] (stirring up racial or religious hatred)

Are the security guards committing an indictable offence? If they are committing assault occasioning actual bodily harm, or worse than that, then yes. Less than that, then likely no.

You can be reasonably confident they will call the police and wait for the police to attend. Therefore you don't need to make the arrest yourself, you can ask the police when they arrive. So this situation doesn't seem to satisfy a condition of the statute, unless you are suffering physical injury (but is that because of the guards behaviour or your resistance).

Someone attempting to escape citizen's arrest commits the offence of escape from lawful custody and someone using force to resist or escape commits the offence of assault with intent to resist arrest. But I imagine it unlikely that there would be a prosecution in the circumstances described.

At common law any person has the power to arrest for a common law breach of the peace, which is far more broad.

Practically speaking the security guards are unlikely to stop restraining you just because you use some magic words. Generally it seems best for you to comply at the time (reducing the risk of injury to all involved) and (if you have a case against them) complain and sue later. If you try to use force you may well put yourself at legal risk (criminal or civil).

  • "As a note the security guards are not obliged to say they are arresting you and in detaining you they are not necessarily arresting you." Can you clarify this point? Security guards do not have any legal powers above those of a regular civilian. They cannot make an arrest (other than a citizen’s arrest, where someone is detained until police arrive), and have no powers to question suspects.
    – User65535
    May 11, 2023 at 9:56
  • I though detention without lawful arrest was false imprisonment, an indictable offence.
    – User65535
    May 11, 2023 at 9:58
  • @User65535 "A person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime, or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders or of persons unlawfully at large." s3 Criminal Law Act 1967
    – Lag
    May 11, 2023 at 10:01
  • "Use of force in making arrest etc."? If this is what you mean, it should be in the answer not the comments. To be useful to me it would need a bit more context.
    – User65535
    May 11, 2023 at 10:04
  • Also, wrt "So this situation doesn't seem to satisfy a condition of the statute, unless you are suffering physical injury (but is that because of the guards behaviour or your resistance)." Can you clarify the relevance of the bit in braces, ie. does an arrest become lawful if you do it because you believe it is necessary to prevent injury caused by your resistance to an unlawful arrest?
    – User65535
    May 11, 2023 at 10:24

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