UK law says that a police officer can only arrest a person if they are wanted on a warrant or if they have “reasonable belief” that someone might have been involved in a criminal offence, or be about to commit an offence, and they therefore believe it is necessary to arrest them.

If you wanted to bring a claim of wrongful arrest, the allegation would hinge on two main things:

  • Whether the officer should or shouldn’t have believed that the person may have been involved in a criminal offence or about to commit an offence
  • Whether or not it was necessary to conduct an arrest

If inquiries could have been continued without an arrest taking place, then a wrongful arrest may have occurred.

The officer’s belief at the time of the arrest can also be questioned and come under scrutiny after the event, especially if it appears that it was unreasonable for them to suspect the individual of a crime.

At Hudgell Solicitors, we handle many compensation claims on behalf of clients across England and Wales who have been victims of unlawful arrests.

We look at some of the key questions around wrongful arrest claims.

What are my rights if I am arrested?

Anyone who is arrested must be told by the police why they have been detained.

This does not have to be done immediately, but they have to tell you the reason as soon as they reasonably can – otherwise the arrest could be deemed unlawful.

Because of the Human Rights laws which exist, whenever an arrest is made, the person arrested always has the right to:

  • Be treated humanely
  • Be treated with respect
  • See the written codes governing their rights and how they are treated
  • Speak to the custody officer, who is responsible for looking after their welfare
  • Have someone notified of their arrest – although they may not be allowed to make the phone call themselves
  • Seek legal advice and consult with a solicitor in private

If any of the above requests are refused, it is vital to write this down on your custody record.

If you are arrested, the police can only detain you for a maximum of 24 hours. This is extended to 36 hours for a more serious arrestable offence.

It is important to ensure the correct time of arrest is written on your custody record.

What types of offences can police make arrests for?

As it currently stands, there are only two types of offence under UK law:

Arrestable offences: These tend to be focused on more serious crimes and include car theft, burglary, affray etc.

Non-arrestable offences: These are far less serious and include modification of computer material, failing to stop a vehicle when asked to do so and most driving offences.

However, the police can arrest someone if they have a “good reason” to do so or in the following circumstances:

  • To stop a breach of the peace
  • If they think a breach of the peace is about to take place
  • When a court has issued an arrest warrant
  • If a person is committing an arrestable offence
  • If a person is about to commit an arrestable offence
  • If a person is guilty of an arrestable offence

Can police arrest someone for a non-arrestable offence?

Yes, if police have “good reason” to think you have committed a non-arrestable offence, they can arrest you if one of following conditions applies:

  • They don’t know your name and can’t find it out easily
  • They have good reason to think the name you have provided is false
  • You fail to give an address which is good enough for a summons to be sent to
  • They have good reason to think the address you have provided is false

When can a legal arrest become unlawful?

The rules set out in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 explain when and how often the police should look at whether you should continue to be detained.

So, even if you have been legally arrested by the police, there are circumstances where it can become unlawful, including:

  • If there is no longer a valid reason for keeping you under arrest
  • If you aren’t charged with an offence – even though there may be enough evidence to do so
  • If the police don’t follow the rules of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act

What can I sue the police for if the victim of a wrongful arrest?

False imprisonment

If you are the victim of an unlawful arrest, the time spent in custody is classed as being a false imprisonment. Because your Human Rights have been violated, and your freedom of movement restricted, you may have been the victim of a criminal act and a civil wrong.

The amount of damages which could be received would depend upon how long the person was unlawfully detained against their will.


If you are the victim of an unlawful arrest, you can automatically claim assault if you have been handcuffed or any hands were laid upon you with unreasonable force during the arrest.

If a police officer disputes this charge and account of events, your case would depend on the evidence of other witnesses. If a case of this nature did get to trial, medical evidence of any injuries sustained would be needed.

The outcome would obviously lie with who the judge or jury believed, but if you were successful the amount of damages awarded would depend upon the severity of your injuries.

What must be proven to win a case of unlawful arrest under UK law?

When considering their verdict in unlawful arrest UK law cases, a court must decide whether the police officer involved had “good reason” to think what they did at the time the decision was made.

When the arrest was carried out, the court must decide whether:

  • The police officer thought it was necessary and that there were no other suitable options at that moment
  • Because of what they knew at the time, it was reasonable for them to think that the arrest needed to be made.

What is the timescale for pursuing a case and compensation claim?

As with all cases and claims for compensation, there are limitation periods and timescales that must be adhered to.

There is currently a 12-months timeframe for which to claim a breach of your Human Rights, a three-year period for negligence, assault claims and injuries (including psychological injuries) and a six-year limitation for anyone bringing a case of false imprisonment, misfeasance or trespass.

That’s why it is always best to launch a claim as soon as possible, so that the memories and evidence are as fresh as possible.

I think I’ve been the victim of an unlawful arrest – what should I do?

Before deciding to pursue a course of litigation, you need to carefully consider the strength of your claim for compensation – which is why it’s always a good idea to enlist the help of a legal expert.

If you have suffered physically or mentally as the result of an unlawful arrest, it can have a significant impact on your life.

At Hudgell Solicitors, we offer free specialist advice on all actions against the police and understand that securing justice and admissions of error from the police is often equally important to our clients as financial compensation.