Back to Previous





The recent sight of Northern Territory politician John Elferink trying to make a citizen’s arrest during a television interview raises some interesting legal questions.

It just happens Mr Elferink is an ex-policeman with a law degree. So when a man wandered over from a nearby pub and kicked Elferink from behind while he was doing a TV interview, it brought out his judicial instincts.

He grabbed the man and told him he was making a citizen’s arrest and would hold him till police arrived.

The man struggled until another man arrived and helped him escape. They ran off while the TV crew kept filming.  What started out as a routine local Darwin story hit the national news.

In Sydney last week pub patrons held down an armed robber until police arrived.

So what is a citizen’s arrest? Can we all do it? Is it wise?

All States have a legal basis to make a citizen’s arrest. In NSW it’s under Section 100 of the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002. It reads:

(1) A person (other than a police officer) may, without a warrant, arrest a person if:

         (a)      the person is in the act of committing an offence under any Act or statutory instrument, or

         (b)      the person has just committed any such offence, or

         (c)      the person has committed a serious indictable offence for which the person has not been tried.

(2) A person who arrests another person under this section 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 according to law.

Police strongly advise people not to even think about doing it if it could put you or other people in danger. You aren’t entitled to search the detainee or their property. You can use only “reasonable force” to detain them – force that is “reasonable” to the situation.

There’s also a catch in the law. You can’t detain someone too violently as you have a “duty of care” to the person you detain. You also have a “duty of care” if you decide to release a person before police arrive. A juvenile should only be released into the care of a parent, guardian or police.

Remember - using too much force could result in the detainee charging you with assault or seeking civil damages. Finally, if the person you ‘arrested’ is released without charge, they might be able to sue you for false imprisonment. Self-defence and Good Samaritan laws may be a defence, but you can’t play cop and investigate yourself.

Leave a Comment


Previous Comments

Stacks Law Firm, Sydney

Added on 5/11/2015 9:51 AM

Hi Douglas, As the article states police strongly advise against making a citizen's arrest. It is always best to inform the authorities if you are aware of someone breaking the law. David Lean is correct that making a citizen's arrest comes with both personal and legal risks.

Douglas, Woorabinda, Qld

Added on 30/10/2015 1:41 AM

Can I make a citizens arrest on a magistrate that I know has broken Australian Constitution law?

David Lean, St Ives

Added on 27/2/2015 5:48 AM

If you have the time to post to a web site, wait for a rely & know she will still be where you can grab her. Then you definitely have time to call your local police station present your evidence to them & let them act. As stated above Detaining people is not without risk. Both an immediate physical risk & subsequent legal risk of being charged with assault, false imprisonment or even kidnapping / murder. It is always preferable to help the police & let them do the job of arresting. Citizen's arrest is clearly an option of last resort &/or immediate need.

liliana montenegro, seven hills

Added on 5/2/2015 13:10 PM

there is a criminal living in sydney at the moment she is fugitive of the chilean law thre a an extradiction order on her and she has an international arrest order with interpol her name is adriana rivas gonzalez can i arrest her is there any law that can gime the power to do so

Connect with us