In brief - Retailers and their employees have a right to make a
If you are sure that you have seen someone shoplifting, you have
the right to make a citizen's arrest and use reasonable force
to detain the shoplifter. However, bear in mind that the police
advise that a citizen's arrest not be made except in extreme
Importance of minimising risk when making a citizen's
In Australia a member of the public, including a shop owner or
employee, can make a "citizen's arrest" if a person
has just committed an offence or is in the process of committing an
offence. Following these ten steps will ensure that you minimise
your risks when making a citizen's arrest.
Make sure you see the person take the item.
Courts have confirmed that a member of the public cannot detain
someone on a suspicion. You must be satisfied that an offence has
actually been committed. A citizen's arrest must also be made
at the time of the offence, it cannot be made the day after or a
few days later.
Confront the shoplifter. Introduce yourself to
the shoplifter, show your identification and explain that you wish
to talk to them about items they may have taken from the
Ask the shoplifter to accompany you back to the store
office. If you speak in a firm, confident and polite
manner most shoplifters will cooperate.
Balance the risks. You should consider whether
the shoplifter poses a danger to any customer or employee in the
store. You should note that if an employee is injured in the course
of carrying out a citizen's arrest, the employee may have a
civil claim for damages against the shop owner, particularly if the
employee has not received adequate security training.
Use reasonable force to detain the shoplifter.
If the shoplifter refuses to accompany you to the store office, you
can tell the shoplifter why they are being detained and use
reasonable force to detain the shoplifter. Reasonable force is any
force that a reasonable person in your situation would use.
However, what seems to be reasonable force to you may not be what
the courts deem to be reasonable.
Call the police. You should advise the
shoplifter that the police are being called and call the police as
soon as possible. The person making the arrest is under an
obligation to present the shoplifter to the police as soon as
possible so they can be dealt with according to the law.
Ask the person to hand over stolen property.
You should ask the shoplifter to hand over any property that does
not belong to them. If the shoplifter refuses, you are not allowed
to conduct a search of their person or any property they have in
their possession. If a search of their person is conducted against
their wishes, you could find yourself charged with assault.
Do not leave the shoplifter unattended.
Leaving the shoplifter unattended may give them an opportunity to
dispose of any stolen items before the police arrive.
Make notes about the incident. You may be
required to give evidence about the incident in court, so you
should make notes about what you saw, the time, what you did and
what was said. The police will rely on your observations to
determine whether there is enough evidence to arrest and charge the
Release the shoplifter. You can release the
shoplifter at any time. However, if the shoplifter is under 18
years of age, you should only release them into the care of the
police, their parent or guardian.
Be careful to avoid assault charges and false imprisonment
If a citizen's arrest is made, you must remember that you
will owe a duty of care to the person you are detaining. If you use
too much force, the shoplifter could bring charges of assault
against you and you may be called to court to justify your actions.
If an incident is investigated and the shoplifter is not charged,
you could be at risk of a civil claim for damages for false
Two criminal offences relating to "false dealing with accounting documents" have been introduced into the Criminal Code.
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