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8. Police Powers of Arrest

8.1 Overview

Police arrest powers are governed by the following:

8.2 Section 24 PACE Arrestable Offences

It is important for activists to be able to distinguish between arrestable and non-arrestable offences.. If an offence is “arrestable” then you may be arrested for it afterwards if the police have reason to suspect you. And the police enjoy certain powers of search which they cannot use for non-arrestable offences. So whether or not an offence is arrestable will determine not only the power of arrest, but the power to search your house and your ability to sue afterwards for false imprisonment.

Many minor public order offences only carry a limited power of arrest, and are not strictly speaking “arrestable offences”, as defined by Section 24 PACE. This section defines what is meant by the term “arrestable offence”.

Firstly it states that any offence is arrestable if the sentence is fixed by law - eg murder. There are very few of these and they are of little relevance to activists. Section 24 then states that any offence is arrestable if it is punishable by 5 years’ imprisonment or more upon first conviction. Finally it lists a set number of about 25 offences which are also arrestable, even though they do not fit either of the above criteria. This list is periodically added to, and it includes some fairly minor offences eg refusal to remove a face mask.

Examples of arrestable offences are

Examples of non-arrestable offences are:

Points to Note

8.3 Statutory Powers of Arrest

Many non-arrestable offences do carry a limited statutory power of arrest, however, namely where the police officer suspects that you are actually committing the offence at the time. This statutory power only exists where it has been actually inserted in to the law itself.

For example, s4 (3) Public Order Act 1986 states:
"A constable may arrest without warrant anyone he reasonably suspects is committing an offence under this section". Where there is no such power inserted in to the act and the offence is not arrestable under Section 24 PACE (above), police powers of arrest are limited to the general power under Section 25 PACE or at common law to prevent a breach of the peace.

Points to Note

8.4 SECTION 25 Pace General Power of Arrest for Non-Arrestable Offences

The usual procedure for prosecution of non-arrestable offences is by way of a summons to appear before magistrates. But where the police reasonably suspect you of committing or having committed a non-arrestable offence, then they may arrest you if they believe that the service of a summons in impractical because any one of the general arrest conditions under Section 25 of PACE is satisfied.

These conditions are as follows:
(1) They cannot establish your name or they think you have given a false one, OR
(2) They cannot establish an address suitable for the service of a summons or they think you have given a false one, OR
(3) They have reasonable grounds to believe arrest is necessary to prevent you from doing any of the following:
(i) causing physical injury to yourself or any other person, OR
(ii) suffering physical injury; OR
(iii) causing loss of or damage to property; OR
(iv) committing an offence against public decency, OR
(v) causing an unlawful obstruction of the highway.


Points to note

8.5 Power of Arrest for Breach of the Peace

The police may threaten you with arrest for breach of the peace when their other powers of arrest are inadequate. The police can exercise it if they reasonably believe that you are using or about to use violence against persons or, in their presence, against their property.

The police can also arrest you for breach of the peace, if they reasonably believe that by your actions you are provoking or will provoke the use of violence by others. If you take a look at the case law on breach of the peace, you'll see that the courts regard any action which involves infringing someone elses's private rights - eg trespass - as unreasonable and therefore provocative.

If you take part in a hunt sab, or are occupying office premises, then according to current case law your arrest for breach of the peace could be lawful. This is because you will be deemed to be interfering with the legitimate property rights of others and thus by your actions provoking the use of violence by others. If by contrast you are engaged in peaceful leafleting outside a shop, an arrest for breach of the peace would probably be unlawful, even if people find your leaflets offensive, so long as the leaflets do not provoke violence.

The police have often threatened activists with arrest in the past for occupying private property – eg banks, offices - during the course of a protest. They are more likely to use the new power of arrest for aggravated trespass which has now been amended to include activity taking place inside as well as outside premises.

Points to Note

This article is for information purposes only; its aim is to let people to know their full rights under UK law. Nothing on these pages is absolute as the law is always changing; if in doubt contact a trusted solicitor for further advice. We do not encourage you to break the law.

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© Copyright freeB.E.A.G.L.E.S.; last updated: July 2002