Citizen’s Arrests (SA)

When people think of arrests, they generally think of suspects being arrested by the police. In some circumstances though, members of the public also have the power to conduct an arrest. This is known as a citizen’s arrest. In South Australia, the powers to carry out a citizen’s arrest are set out in the Summary Offences Act and in the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935. This page deals with citizen’s arrests in South Australia.

What is a citizen’s arrest?

A citizen’s arrest occurs when a member of the public arrests another person and delivers them into police custody.

Any person who is conducting a lawful arrest – whether they are a police officer or a member of the public – may use reasonable force to effect the arrest.

The arrestor must inform the person of the reason for the arrest. They must not use more force than is reasonable in the circumstances. They must not subject the person to unnecessary humiliation or degradation.  

When can a person carry out a citizen’s arrest?

Under section 271 of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935, a person may arrest and detain another person who is in the act of committing or has just committed:

  • Theft;
  • An offence against the person;
  • An offence involving damage to or destruction of property;
  • An indictable offence.

Arrest by owner of property

Under section 76 of the Summary Offences Act 1953, a person who is the owner or occupier of property, or their servant or agent, may apprehend a person who they find committing an offence on or with respect to that property and deliver them into the custody of police.

Stolen goods

Under section 77 of the Summary Offences Act 1953, a person who is offered property that they have reasonable cause to suspect has been stolen or obtained unlawfully, may:

  • Apprehend and detain the person offering the property until they can be delivered into police custody;
  • Seize and detain the property until they can be delivered into police custody.

Unlawful arrest

If a person is considering carrying out a citizen’s arrest, they should be aware that there are significant risks associated with doing so. Members of the public generally do not have training or experience in conducting an arrest properly and may injure themselves or the person they are arresting.

An arrest that is carried out unlawfully may also result in civil or criminal legal consequences for the arrestor. For example, if the person arrested is injured in the process, the arrestor may be charged with assault. If the person is arrested without due cause, or if too much force is used, the arrestor may be sued for a tort such as assault, false imprisonment or negligence.

A citizen’s arrest should only be carried out in circumstances where it is a necessity.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Go To Court Lawyers.


Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws from Latrobe University, a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice from the College of Law, a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Melbourne and a Master of Arts (Writing and Literature) from Deakin University. Fernanda practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory. She also practised in family law after moving to Brisbane in 2016.
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