THE BLOG

Citizen's Arrest - What Not To Do

23/01/2014 10:51 GMT | Updated 24/03/2014 09:59 GMT

Last weekend, a former UK Prime Minister was ambushed and verbally berated by a brazen bar worker (Mr. Garcia). Whilst serving the former PM as he dined in an east London restaurant, Mr. Garcia believed it appropriate to perform "a citizen's arrest for a crime against peace...". A few days after this extraordinary episode took place, the UK national newspapers gave front page honour to the incident.

The newspapers, whilst happy to comment on the evidently strong political views motivating Mr. Garcia, failed to question the legitimacy of Mr. Garcia's declaration of self-conferred rights. What could have been raised were questions regarding an improper and uninformed attempt to utilise a legal tool - one that was designed for the purpose of allowing citizens to assist police officers in detaining law breakers. However, this has scarcely been touched upon in debate surrounding the event.

Mr. Garcia appears to have acted under the false impression that there is a "crime against peace" under English law for which he could perform a citizen's arrest.

The concept of citizen's arrest may be traced back to the right conferred under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, to a person "other than a constable", to arrest someone for an "indictable offence" in a situation where it is not reasonably practical for a police officer to make the arrest. What is more, a citizen's arrest should only be performed where there is a fear that harm might ensue should the arrest not take place. If Mr. Garcia was truly attempting to perform a citizen's arrest, he would have failed miserably given that the aforementioned criteria were not satisfied; in particular, the police could have reasonably detained the accused had they so wished and there was no reason to fear that harm might ensue had the arrest not taken place.

Attributing the benefit of the doubt to Mr. Garcia's wisdom it is possible to presume that he had intended to act in the name of an entirely detached power of arrest, namely that for a "Breach of the Peace". Such a power is conferred to the public under common law. A citizen's arrest may be performed on a person committing, or about to commit what is considered to be a Breach of the Peace. Generally, this is considered to be a situation involving a threat or immanent element of harm. However, a breach of the peace is neither a crime, as Mr. Garcia insinuated, nor an activity that would likely bring about one's indictment.

So, from where did Mr. Garcia glean the idea of an "arrest for a crime against peace"? It is likely that Mr. Garcia's expansive knowledge of the Law in regard to citizen's arrest, was mustered from one website, namely - arrestblair.org. This website offers a bounty to those who perform arrests [that are then published] on Mr. Blair for "...crimes against peace, also known as crimes of aggression". The website draws an astonishing parallel by asserting that such crimes, "were described by the Nuremberg Tribunal as "the Supreme international crime"...". In addition, the website suggests a series of "Nuremberg Principles" - within which it lists a number of crimes under international law including "crimes against Peace".

Mr. Garcia's actions not only reflect the truism that partial knowledge is a dangerous thing but also present a wider concern. As the use of the internet continues to grow as a means of disseminating ideas and information on a global scale; the impressionable are perhaps more susceptible than ever to acting on a poorly informed whim with negative consequences for society. Or perhaps this interpretation is too generous a reading of last weeks' events and Mr.Garcia knew full well that he was pulling a political stunt with no legal foundation and is now enjoying the publicity and bounty which he looks set to receive.