Police / What if I'm arrested?

What if I’m arrested?

Have you been arrested? Or do you want to know what would happen if you were?

This page provides advice about the law and your rights. This will help answer any questions you might have – and help you decide how to act.

It includes information on:

  • arrest and detention
  • false allegations
  • your human rights
  • complaining about the police.

Please keep in mind that these are general facts that apply to everybody. Every arrest is likely to include details that only apply to that specific situation, like how it happened, where it happened, what happened.

So, if you think your case is unique, it’s best to talk to a solicitor to get specific advice for your circumstances.

What are the police’s powers?

Police powers to arrest are set out in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (often referred to as PACE). This Act explains when the police are allowed to arrest people – and also when they can detain people.

Arrest – PACE gives police officers the power to arrest anyone. They do not need a warrant. But they must have ‘reasonable grounds’ and the arrest must be ‘necessary’. This means:

  • the officer has good reason to think you may have committed a crime
  • AND the officer has good reason to believe that arresting you is necessary. For example:
    • to help investigate the crime
    • to establish your name if you don’t give it to them when questioned
    • to prevent you from injuring yourself or others.

Detention – PACE also allows police officers to hold you at a police station if they suspect you have committed a crime. But they can only hold you for so long before they charge you with something.

  • You can be held for up to 24 hours before they have to charge you with a crime.
  • The police can apply for permission to hold you for up to 36 or 96 hours if you’re suspected of a serious crime, such as murder.
  • You can be held without charge for up to 14 days if arrested under the Terrorism Act.

Can the police use force to arrest me?

The police powers allow them to use ‘reasonable force’. This includes when:

  • you resist arrest
  • they need to prevent a crime being committed
  • they need to make a lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders.

‘Reasonable force’ means using only as much force as they need to arrest you. It must be the minimum – no more.

Can the police seize my possessions?

The police have the power to take and keep hold of your possessions – for example, your phone or laptop. But only if:

  • they have reasonable grounds to believe it is evidence of an offence.

If the items are legally yours, they must return them to you after the investigation or any court proceedings are over.

What is a ‘false allegation’?

If somebody tells the police you have been involved in a crime but it’s not true, that’s a ‘false allegation’. However, the police might not know that it’s false, so they can still arrest you to investigate if they have good reason to suspect that you have committed an offence and good reason to believe that arresting you is necessary. This is lawful, it’s not a false arrest.

What are my rights?

As well as giving police the powers to arrest people, PACE also sets out rules on how suspects must be treated after they are arrested.

The custody officer at the police station must explain that you have the right to:

  • get free legal advice
  • tell someone where you are
  • have medical help if you’re feeling ill
  • see the rules the police must follow.

The officer must also let you see a written notice telling you about your rights. You can ask for this notice written in your own language – or for an interpreter to explain it.

Some people think that an arrest violates their human rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR for short), which applies directly in the UK thanks to the Human Rights Act 1998.


Article 5 ECHR

Article 5 of the ECHR says: “No-one shall be deprived of their liberty save in the following cases”. The Article then goes on to describe one case as being:

“The lawful arrest or detention of a person effected for the purpose of bringing him before the competent legal authority on reasonable suspicion of having committed an offence or when it is reasonably considered necessary to prevent his committing an offence or fleeing after having done so”.

In other words, it’s lawful for the police to arrest you if they can show a good reason to think you’ve been involved in a crime. However, they must always follow the procedures set out in the law (such as PACE).

How do I make a complaint?

If you’ve been arrested but you believe the police have acted unlawfully in any way, you have the right to make a police complaint.

You can make the complaint directly yourself, but it may be a good idea to get help from a solicitor that specialises in actions against the police.

Can I make a claim for compensation?

You might want to make a claim for compensation from the police for:

  • unlawful arrest
  • personal injury
  • lost or damaged possessions
  • damage to property.

Personal injury claims must be made within three years of the incident or diagnosis of injury. Other civil claims must be brought within six years.

If you decide to make a legal claim, it’s essential that you use a lawyer. Get help to find one here.

Help and support

Being arrested can be very stressful. Even after being found innocent, you might still suffer anxiety or mental health problems. We strongly recommend talking to your GP about this. If you experience any suicidal feelings dial 999 straight away. Or call the Samaritans on 116 123.

Call us for more information

If you have been arrested and would like more information about your rights, please call us.

0203 145 0461
Call us for more information

What are my rights on this?

Find out more about your rights and how the Human Rights Act protects them

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