Collin the Constable holds the Office of Police Constable making him an independent servant of the crown who is said to be individually and independently responsible for all of his conduct carried out in the course of discharging the powers of his office. Particularly, it has been said that “a police officer cannot be directed when to arrest, the decision to arrest is that of the arresting officer only.” (I would give a canonical source to this quotation, but it was written in private correspondence to myself, albeit from a fairly knowledgeable source, yet I don’t know where it is taken from (though I suspect that it is copied from some semi-official handbook or the like). But I am just wondering if this above statement is fully accurate:

For example, are there not situations where an officer doesn’t have any choice at all but to arrest someone? For example, imagine he gets called to a report of a bar fight, or perhaps a petty shoplifting call, neither of which types of incidents inherently necessitate arrests. But upon soliciting and checking Bob’s details on PNC, they see that he is subject to a bench warrant on grounds of skipping bail, does this scenario not outrule the above principle?

Or…, what really is the warrant? Is it more of an authorisation, than a directive, for any acting Constable to arrest Bob, at the Constable’s discretion? Would the Constable nonetheless, (for example if Bob was behaving very credibly and cooperatively), have the discretion to give him words of advice along with obtaining his postal address for the purposes of later sending him a summons for a so called “caution +3” / “voluntary interview” about the outstanding matter of breaching bail together with whatever else may have remained outstanding from the previous episode?

Are there any other scenarios which would negate the above quoted principle? Or is it completely correct?

But are there

1 Answer 1


Particularly, it has been said that “a police officer cannot be directed when to arrest, the decision to arrest is that of the arresting officer only.”

This is correct although I can, no more than you, give a reference for it.

The basic principle is that the constable has various powers of arrest, and he is personally accountable for following the law in the exercise of those powers.

A constable can certainly be told to go and arrest somebody, but in following that instruction what the constable must have in his own possession is the justification for the exercise of his own power of arrest.

The mere fact that someone told the constable to arrest, is not on its own justification for the constable to arrest.

And where a power of arrest does exist, a constable is not required to exercise that power. It is only a tool the constable has for exercising his general duties.

The two most obvious situations where a constable may not arrest, are firstly where an arrest would inconvenience the constable in tending to a more serious matter, and secondly where the attempt to arrest may put the constable in unreasonable danger. But the field is really wide open for why a constable might not arrest.

The existence of a "warrant for arrest" is another device that gives full justification for an arrest, but doesn't itself compel an arrest to be made.

If a warrant for arrest does exist and a constable has no specific reason not to arrest, then the arrest will usually be made.

The point of arresting and bailing, is that the person is confirmed to be on explicit notice that they are wanted at court, and conditions can be attached to the bail which attract more severe penalties.

This is similar to the idea of disqualifying drivers who have no driving licence in the first place. The point is that there are additional penalties for violating the disqualification.

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