Citizen’s Arrests (Vic)

While the vast majority of arrests are carried out by the police, there are some limited circumstances where a member of the public has the authority to arrest another person. This is known as a citizen’s arrest. In Victoria, the situations where a citizen’s arrest can be carried out are set out in the Crimes Act 1958. This page deals with citizen’s arrests in Victoria.

What is a citizen’s arrest?

A citizen’s arrest occurs when a person who is not a police officer, lawfully arrests another person. A person does not actually need to be an Australian citizen to carry out a citizen’s arrest. They need only have reasonable grounds for thinking the arrest is necessary to prevent an indictable offence from being committed, or to bring about the arrest of a person who has committed an offence.  

A person carrying out a citizen’s arrest must deliver the person arrested into police custody without delay. They must only use as much force as is reasonably necessary to carry out the arrest and they must provide the police with information about the reasons for the arrest.

When can a citizen’s arrest be carried out?

Under section 458(1) of the Crimes Act 1958, a person may arrest a person they find committing an offence where they believe on reasonable grounds that this is necessary:

  • To ensure the person’s attendance at court;
  • To preserve public order;
  • To prevent the continuance or repetition of the offence;
  • For the safety or welfare of the public or of the offender;

A person may also arrest a person under this section where they are instructed to do so by a police officer, or where they believe that the person is escaping lawful custody, aiding someone else to escape lawful custody or avoiding apprehension by a person with authority to apprehend them.

Under section 462A of the Crimes Act 1958, a person may use reasonable force to prevent the commission, continuance or completion of an indictable offence or to carry out or assist in the lawful arrest of a person committing or suspected of committing an offence.

Under section 463A of the Crimes Act 1958, a person on board and in command of an aircraft may arrest a person for an offence affecting the use of the aircraft.

Unlawful citizen’s arrests

Carrying out a citizen’s arrest comes with risks. These arrests usually happen unexpectedly and without prior planning and the person doing the arrest generally does not have experience or training in handling such situations. There are a number of potential adverse consequences that can follow carrying out such an arrest.

Firstly, if a citizen’s arrest is carried out without the power to do so, this amounts to false imprisonment. False imprisonment is the unlawful restraint of a person within a confined area without authority. If this occurs, the person arrested may sue the arrestor for the tort of false imprisonment. The arrestor may also be charged with the criminal offence of deprivation of liberty.

Secondly, if the arrest was carried out using more force than was reasonable in the circumstances, the person arrested may take civil action against the arrestor for a tort such as assault, battery or negligence. The arrestor could also be charged with a criminal offence such as assault.

If the arrestor fails to deliver the person into police custody without delay or subjects them to unnecessary humiliation or degradation, this could also lead to civil or criminal action being taken against them.  

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

Author

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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