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Breach of the peace

The police have had a long standing common law power to arrest for breach of the peace. In 1982 the court of appeal said of a breach of the peace:-

"even in these days when affrays, riotous behaviour and other disturbances happen all too frequently, we cannot accept that there can be a breach of the peace unless there has been an act done or threatened to be done which either actually harms a person, or in his presence his property, or is likely to cause such harm, which puts someone in fear if such harm being done."

Hence the courts have attempted to define this often very unclear concept, and establish that it denotes some harm, actual of prospective, against persons or property.

Accepting the above as the best definition of a breach of the peace, the powers of arrest for it can be stated as:

  • Any person may arrest for a breach of the peace committed in his/her presence
  • S/he may also arrest where although no breach of the peace has taken place, if s/he fears and has reasonable cause to believe that a breach of the peace will occur in the immediate future
  • Finally an arrest may be made where a breach of the peace has been committed and s/he has reasonable grounds to believe that it will be renewed if no arrest is made

NB - The power of arrest here is essentially therefore a private one. Of course, after arrest under the common law power there is nothing to prevent the person being charged under S4 or 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 or new sections of the CJA.

The Law

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