Tuesday, February 02, 2010

When can you make a citizen’s arrest?

George Monbiot is inviting us to attempt citizen’s arrests on Tony Blair, “for a crime against peace, namely your decision to launch an unprovoked war against Iraq”. He’s offering money, so I expect Cherie will have a go.

The response to this has not been universally positive (although someone’s already had a go). But Monbiot is undeterred: “you can mock our feeble attempts to hold Tony Blair to account, but only if you propose an alternative”.

OK, here are a few alternatives: have a nice cup of tea; take up knitting; put pretend arrest warrants out on the other 411 MPs who voted for the war; go online and find out what your old school friends are up to; put a pretend arrest warrant out on Blair for his illegal war against Yugoslavia; keep writing the same Guardian column over and over again until you hit retirement; send thank-you notes to Vladimir Putin, Hu Jintao and Jacques Chirac for declining to make the Iraq war was legal by giving it the nod; or eating some ice cream. These would be all be equally successful ways of holding Blair to account.

One other thing you could do would be to read section 24A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which covers the rules on citizen’s arrests [annotated with my own expert legal interpretation]:

Arrest without warrant: other persons

(1) A person other than a constable may arrest without a warrant—
(a) anyone who is in the act of committing an indictable offence;
(b) anyone whom he has reasonable grounds for suspecting to be committing an indictable offence.
[(a) is obviously out, as the war was in the past, and for the same reason so is (b)]

(2) Where an indictable offence has been committed, a person other than a constable may arrest without a warrant—
(a) anyone who is guilty of the offence;
(b) anyone whom he has reasonable grounds for suspecting to be guilty of it.
[No competent body has ruled that any indictable offence has been committed, so (2) is out. That basically stymies the whole idea, but let’s imagine that citizens are allowed to decide what counts as an offence, and carry on]

(3) But the power of summary arrest conferred by subsection (1) or (2) is exercisable only if—
(a) the person making the arrest has reasonable grounds for believing that for any of the reasons mentioned in subsection (4) it is necessary to arrest the person in question; and
(b) it appears to the person making the arrest that it is not reasonably practicable for a constable to make it instead.
[For (a), we’ll have to see below, and (b) is out as Blair is always accompanied by constables who could perfectly well make any necessary arrests. Actually, we could stop here, because the (3) demands that both conditions (a) and (b) be met. But while we’re so near the end…]

(4) The reasons are to prevent the person in question—
(a) causing physical injury to himself or any other person;
(b) suffering physical injury;
(c) causing loss of or damage to property; or
(d) making off before a constable can assume responsibility for him.
[No, no, no, no. Not even close]

It’s a jolly student jape, but the legal case for performing a citizen’s arrest on Tony Blair is even weaker than the political case. Sorry.

1 comment:

Polaris said...

Monbiot is such a nob, he is so consumed in self-admiration - he'll never accept your analysis Tom.

Knitting - that should do it, although I suspect he'd try to knit a large mirror.