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Was my arrest unlawful?

View profile for Adam Quick
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Was my arrest unlawful?

At Stephensons, we pursue civil claims for compensation for unlawful arrest. It is probably the most common type of action that our actions against public bodies department pursue. The most common question we receive is, was my arrest unlawful?

Therefore, here is some of the guidance and case law that determines the basis of a lawful arrest.

  1. The starting point for any consideration of the lawfulness of an arrest is the offence. What offence were you arrested for?
  2. Once you have established what offence you were arrested for, you then need to consider whether the law has been applied correctly.

If the law has not been applied correctly, then this may amount to a claim for compensation for what is otherwise known as ‘false imprisonment’.

S.24 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE 1984) and Code G of the guidance arising from that act set out the relevant law. Cases have also developed over time considering the issues. An important case which is still referred to is Castorina v The Chief Constable of Surrey Police (1988) NLJ Rep 180. This determined that there were three questions to be considered when looking at  lawfulness of an arrest:

  1. Did the arresting officer suspect that the person who was arrested was guilty of the offence? The answer to this question depends entirely on the findings of fact as to the officer’s state of mind.
  2. Assuming that the officer had the necessary suspicion, was there reasonable cause for that suspicion? This is a purely objective requirement to be determined by the judge if necessary on facts found by the jury.
  3. If the answers to the previous questions is in the affirmative then the officers has a discretion which entitles him to make an arrest and in relation to that discretion the question arises as to whether the discretion has been exercised reasonably – in a legal sense which is known as the Wednesbury Criteria

In other words, has the arresting officer established that there was a reasonable suspicion to believe you have committed the offence alleged and additionally, was it necessary to arrest? Reasonable suspicion is often referred to as ‘I suspect but I cannot prove’. Therefore, the police do not need to prove that you have committed the offence at the point of arrest, they need to merely reasonably suspect you of committing the offence.

People often believe that, because they have been found not guilty or their case was dismissed, that this now means they are entitled to compensation for unlawful arrest/false imprisonment.

Just because the police took no further action or the crown prosecution service offered no evidence, or even because you were found not guilty, it does not necessarily mean that the arrest was unlawful. You must remember that the standard of proof in criminal matters, as opposed to civil, is very different.

In criminal matters, the case against you must be proven ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’, whereas in civil matters, the police need to only establish ‘on the balance of probabilities’ that there were grounds for arrest. Establishing a case beyond a reasonable doubt is a much higher threshold than showing there were grounds for arrest on the balance of probabilities.

So there can often be insufficient evidence to prove the case criminally, but enough evidence to satisfy the arrest criteria. They do not always go hand-in-hand.

The question of whether, having established a reasonable suspicion to believe you have committed an offence, it was necessary to arrest, is a much more complex matter and again, has been developed by case law over the years.

Interestingly, Code G of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 has suggested that ‘An officer who believes that it is necessary to interview the person suspected of committing the offence must then consider whether their arrest is necessary in order to carry out the interview. The officer is not required to interrogate the suspect to determine whether they will attend a police station voluntarily to be interviewed but they must consider whether the suspect’s voluntary attendance is a practicable alternative for carrying out the interview. If it is, then arrest would not be necessary.”

Therefore, when you are invited to the station to attend voluntarily for an interview and are then arrested on arrival, this may give rise to a claim for unlawful arrest/false imprisonment.

It is important to obtain legal advice on these issues from a firm that has experience in dealing with this type of case. Stephensons Solicitors LLP, have many years of experience in pursuing these matters. We have an excellent record and have the specialist expertise required to assess whether or not an arrest was lawful. It is important to seek advice as soon as possible because time limits apply to taking court action and with delays, there is a greater risk that documents that may help in a claim may be lost.

If you would like us to consider your case, then please contact us on 0175 321 6399. We will endeavour to get back to you as quickly as possible.

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