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Australia has faced some incredibly tragic moments in the last year. The Sydney CBD Knife attack hit the heartstrings of Sydney siders who make the CBD their home and workplace. This savage attack, which left one woman dead and another injured, saw the rise of unlikely heroes. Innocent bystanders armed with chairs and milk crates took action against this man’s rampage. They approached and subdued the assailant under an impromptu Citizen’s Arrest and waited for Police arrival. The Superintendent of NSW Police commented that the bystanders who apprehended this man were “significantly brave people”. By approaching a person who you believe has committed a crime, you are essentially putting yourself at risk both physically and legally. Before helping in any way, ensure that you won’t be putting yourself at significant risk. In the case that you have been assaulted or harmed in any way, it is best to get in touch with a lawyer in Sydney, or your area, to get legal advice on the matter.

In NSW, the powers of anyone other than a police officer to arrest a person is held in the “Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002—Sect 100 Power of other persons to arrest without warrant”. 

Effectively, a person (other than a Police Officer) may, without a warrant arrest a person if:

  1. The person is in the act of committing an offence, 
  2. The Person has just committed any such offence, or
  3. The person has committed a serious indictable offence for which the person has not been tried.

Any person that arrests another person under this power, must as soon as is reasonably practicable, take the person, and any property found on the person, before an authorised officer to be dealt with. 

There are limitations to this power that you should be aware of. Firstly, you cannot arrest a person if you are under the suspicion that they have committed a crime. Police Officers are afforded the power to place a person under arrest if they believe that they have committed a crime and this power allows them to investigate and question the criminal. However, a private citizen does not have this power. You can only perform a citizen’s arrest if they are in the act of the crime or have just committed the offence. If you attempt a citizen’s arrest without cause, you can potentially face charges for assault, false imprisonment or the deprivation of liberty. Furthermore, Police strongly advise people not to try a citizen’s arrest if it will put you or other people in danger. Contact a lawyer in Sydney, or near your area, if legal action is needed. 

Secondly, when you undertake a citizen’s arrest you inherit a “Duty of Care” for the person while he/she is in your custody. That means you are legally bound to the person you have detained. You can only use reasonable force when arresting the person and for transporting them to an authorised officer. That means that the level of force that you use is contingent to the way they are. If they are armed, the level of response by you is matched only until they are unarmed. It is entirely possible that a person can be charged with manslaughter over a citizen’s arrest where a person dies. However, you also have a Duty of Care if you release a person before the Police arrives if they hurt themselves or perform further harm to others.

There are many considerations that you should take before performing a citizen’s arrest. 

Firstly, remember that your safety is paramount. As a witness, especially to a crime that is violent or if the offender is armed, the information that you can provide to the Police is more valuable than if you got yourself hurt. Only attempt a citizen’s arrest if you feel that it is safe to do so otherwise dial “000”. 

Secondly, you do not have the training or weapons to help you deal with criminals. The men that took down the CBD knife attacker used what they had available to them—milk crates and chairs—to defend themselves from attack.

Thirdly, if you perform a citizen’s arrest, it is important that you either call the police or take the person to the nearest police station immediately. In order to rely on the powers granted to perform an arrest without a warrant, you must as soon as reasonably practicable, take the person and any of their property found on them to the Police. 

Finally, only use reasonable force when arresting someone. In theory, you do not even have to touch them to arrest a person. Any harm that you cause to another person opens up the possibility that you are sued for assault, battery or false imprisonment. Be careful! Make sure to get in touch with a lawyer in Sydney, or your area, in case of misunderstandings or other issues that require legal action.