Case Studies on Lawful Arrest

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Course W100: eTMA 4:


Using ‘common sense rules’, ‘concealing a handbag matching the description of the stolen handbag’, represents suspicious behaviour which should be explained.  However the advice as to whether the need to explain can be avoided because of unlawful arrest must be given relative to analysis of specific legal rules.

Those rules are contained in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, as amended by the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (hereinafter ‘PACE’).

Specifically, arrest without a warrant (a summary arrest) by a constable is governed by s.24 of PACE.

S.24(3)(b) provides that “where an offence has been committed, a constable may arrest without a warrant ... anyone whom he has reasonable grounds for suspecting to be guilty of it.”  PC Patel reasonably believed he knew that an offence had been committed (from his radio call).  Absent the radio call, PC Patel may well still have had ‘reasonable grounds for suspecting that an offence has been committed’ as provided for in s.24(2) based simply on David’s running away (if he had done so) when stopping him to ask something.

As David was wearing the same type of jacket as the person suspected of stealing the handbag, in tandem with his decision to run away rather than cooperate, PC Patel fairly unequivocally had ‘reasonable grounds for suspecting’ David.

It might be possible to argue PC Patel’s identification of David was unreasonable.  This would be the case if the description of the suspect given to PC Patel (in terms of height and hair colour) was so materially different from David’s height and hair colour that it was not reasonable for PC Patel to suspect David in terms of visual identification.  We cannot conclude whether this argument might be persuasive without knowing the extent of the height and hair colour match.

There is a further requirement (provided at s.24(4)) that the arrest must be ‘necessary’.  The various ‘reasons’ which constitute a ‘necessary’ arrest are listed in s.24(5).  It is only necessary for ‘any one’ of the given reasons to be satisfied.

One such reason is ‘causing loss of or damage to property’ (s.24(5)(c)(iii)).

Stealing a handbag would constitute loss of property.

In summary the arrest was highly likely ‘reasonable’ and if reasonable certainly ‘necessary’ and thus overall highly likely lawful.  Therefore David is advised that I doubt I can defend him successfully arguing that his arrest was unlawful.


As a law student, the first page of my first text book explained that “law is not an exact science and when it comes to … applying and breaking rules, there is a lot of room for interpretation.”  Esther’s case, assuming that she was indeed stealing (again), juxtaposes the literal interpretation rule, which may well secure the decision that she was unlawfully arrested, with a more purposive interpretation which demands that her actions are explained.

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Esther was arrested by a ‘person other than a constable … without a warrant’.  The lawfulness of such “citizens’” arrests is regulated in s.24A of PACE which authorises (subject to a necessity test discussed below) a summary arrest where ‘anyone … is in the act of committing an indictable offence.’  Solely from the information provided, ‘indictable’ is not defined so we do not know whether theft is indictable.  If it is not, then Esther’s arrest was unlawful.

If theft is an indictable offence, there remain other relevant considerations.

S.24A(3) provides that Safi, in her capacity as a ‘person ...

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