Wrongful arrest – what does it mean?

Wrongful arrest means that you are challenging the police’s decision to arrest you or the manner in which they did so.

For an arrest to be lawful, the police must have reasonable grounds to believe you are about to commit a crime, are in the process of committing a crime, have been involved in a crime, or if you are wanted on a warrant.

On arrest, the police must:

  • Let you know they are the police
  • Explain that you are under arrest
  • Tell you what crime you are being arrested for
  • Explain why it is necessary to arrest you
  • Explain that you are detained and cannot leave.

Police should only use reasonable force during an arrest if you try to flee or become violent.

Once arrested, you can only be detained by police for a maximum of 24 hours before they must either charge you or release you. The police can apply to hold you for up to 36 or 96 hours if you are suspected of more serious offences, such as murder.

You can be held without charge for up to 14 days if you are arrested under the Terrorism Act.

If you are in custody, you have the right to:

  • Know why you are being kept at the police station and see a written notice about your rights
  • Request a consultation with your solicitor
  • Notify someone about your arrest
  • Request medical assistance, if necessary
  • View the police ‘Codes of Practice’, which are the rules they must follow
  • Speak to the custody officer, who is responsible for looking after your welfare.

Claiming for wrongful arrest

If you wish to bring a claim for wrongful arrest, it is dependent on whether:

  • The police should or shouldn’t have believed you may have been involved in or about to commit a criminal offence
  • It was necessary to conduct an arrest.

If the police could have avoided an arrest by making enquiries, then wrongful arrest may have occurred. The officer’s beliefs at the time of arrest can be scrutinized, especially where it was seen as unreasonable to suspect a person of committing a crime.

If you were the victim of unlawful arrest and spent any time in custody, this will be considered false imprisonment. You can also bring a claim for assault if you were handcuffed or if any unreasonable force was used on arrest.


There are strict time limits to bring compensation claims against the police. Currently you have 12 months to bring a claim for a breach of your Human Rights, 3 years for negligence, assault, and physical/psychological injuries and 6 years for false imprisonment, misfeasance, and trespass.

However, it is always advisable to bring any claims as soon as possible.

If you believe you may have grounds to bring a claim for compensation against the police, our expert team of experienced police action, civil liberties and human rights solicitors are always happy to discuss this further with you. If you think that you or someone you know has been mistreated in by the police, please call our office on 0207 632 4300.


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