Who is Anjem Choudary and just what is a 'citizen's arrest?'
Soldier Lee Rigby was brutally killed in Woolwich on 22nd May. Certain individuals are under arrest and consequently the case should not be discussed further. Anjem Choudary, described as a 'Radical Islamist preacher' appeared on BBC Television and said he was shocked by the murder but did not condemn it. Choudary maintained a line that the killing was linked to British and U.S. foreign policy. Feelings were running high in the aftermath of the killing and the BBC came in for some vociferous criticism for allowing Choudary to state his views on TV - see, for example,The Guardian. Some politicians demanded that the Police act against Choudary perhaps for 'stirring up' hatred on religious grounds - The Sun 26th May.
In English law, arrest is
usually best left to the Police but there is a somewhat limited right for the citizen to effect an arrest. The history of this is convoluted and this post looks just at the modern position which is set out in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 section 24A. (The 1984 Act was amended by the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 and by the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006).
The 1984 Act s24A:
Arrest without warrant: other persons
Part 3 is concerned with Racial Hatred. Part 3A - concerned with Religious Hatred - was enacted by the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006.
One feature of the Racial and Religious Hatred Act was that it inserted subsection 5 into s24A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and this prevents any citizen's arrest for offences under Parts 3 and 3A of the Public Order Act 1986. Only constables have power to arrest persons in the context of those offences.
The power under section 24A is limited:
Analysis of s24A shows that it is a limited power. 24A(1) is restricted to arrest of persons in the act of committing an indictable offence or anyone whom the arresting citizen has reasonable grounds for suspecting to be committing an indictable offence. Reasonable grounds are to be assessed objectively and not according to the subjective viewpoint of the person making the arrest.
s24A(2) requires that an indictable offence has actually been committed. Of course, whether an offence has been committed may turn on questions of law.
s24A(3) imposes further restrictions which speak for themselves. The right of the citizen to arrest another is clearly limited to cases where, at the time of the arrest, there is almost immediate risk of injury or property damage or 'making off.' The existence of such risk is, again, to be judged objectively.
s24A is also limited to indictable offences - i.e. any offence which may be tried in the Crown Court but not offences which are summary - that is, triable only by the Magistrates' Court. See Interpretation Act 1978.
Hence, apart for the clearest of cases, the citizen is ill-advised to try to arrest another citizen. If the arrest turns out to be unlawful, the citizen who made such an arrest may well be found liable in tort (civil wrong).
Be careful if reading older cases about citizen's arrest. Cases are decided according to the law at the time and, in this area, there has been considerable change.