Seeking Legal Recourse: Duties of the Police

Arrest and Detentions: Legal Duties of the Police

There is no statutory definition of the word Arrest.” According to a law dictionary, the word arrest, means to hold someone legally to keep her/him in custody and charge her/him with a crime. “Arrest may also refer to the act of “restraining of the liberty of a man’s person in order to compel obedience to the order of the court of justice or to prevent the commission of a crime may be forthcoming to answer it.” Arrest means physical restraint put on a person as a result of an allegation of accusation that he has committed a crime or an offence of quasi-criminal nature. 

In an ordinary and natural sense, the word “arrest means the act of apprehending or restraining or depriving someone of his liberty. The essential element of arrest is that there must be an intent to arrest under the authority, accompanied by a seizure or detention of person in the manner known to the law, which is also so understood by the person arrested.  

There are two basic objectives or purposes of an arrest. 

One, it is effected to ensure the production of the arrested person in a court of law, if there exists a criminal complaint or charge against him.Two, it has the aim of preventing such person from continuing in unlawful activities. The arrest of the accused is a major step involved in the process of investigation. The mere pronouncement of word arrest is not an arrest unless the person sought to be arrested submits to the process and so does the arresting officer. 

Power to Arrest an Accused

A person engaged in an unlawful and cognizable criminal act may be arrested by police officer, by a magistrate or an ordinary person. The police are empowered under Sections 41, 42, 151 and 432 (3) of Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) to arrest without warrant in case of cognizable offence. Ordinary persons are empowered to arrest an accused under Section 43 of the CrPC. The magistrate is empowered to arrest an accused under Section 44 of the CrPC. As the power to arrest under Section 41 of the CrPC is wide and vast, there is an obvious apprehension of its misuse. The power to arrest has to be exercised with great caution and circumspection and for substantial reasons. 

Even in the case of police officer or others empowered to arrest, the mere utterance of words or gestures would never amount to an arrest unless the person concerned submits to the custody of the arrester. 

The power to arrest is discretionary. Therefore, a police officer is not always bound to make an arrest in cognizable offence. A state’s High Court will also normally not exercise its inherent powers at the stage where the police are investigating cognizable offence in exercise of their statutory rights – unless such non-interference by the court would result in miscarriage of justice. If a person is restricted within the precincts of police station, it would undoubtedly be an arrest. No arrest can be made on the ground that the delinquent may commit a cognizable offence in future – for example, persons under the influence of alcohol for some mutual entertainment. Such situation cannot be a legal ground for arrest on the basis that they were preparing for the commission of an offence. Mere suspicion of a police officer cannot be a reasonable ground for the arrest of a person without a warrant.  

If an investigating officer utters a sentence regarding the arrest but fails to mention the time and the place of arrest, then that may not be sufficient to prove the arrest.  

head constable, on the order of sub-inspector, can make an arrest, and that would be valid in law. 

A private person can arrest only when cognizable offence is committed by someone. Since the offence under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substance (NDPS Act) is cognizable, even a private person can arrest an offender under Section 42 of the CrPC. The Supreme Court held in D.K Basu Vs State of West Bengal (1997) (1 SCC 416)that an arrest made without due procedure under Section 41 of the CrPC and without following proper guidelines would be deemed as illegal and the accused would be entitled to compensation. 

How a Person Can Be Arrested

Section 46 of the CrPC lays down the procedure for making an arrest. An arrest is made either by police officer or another person by actually touching or confining the body of a person to be arrested unless there is a submission to the custody by words or action. A person may be arrested by hand-cuffing only in rare cases if the person being arrested attempts to escape or it is necessary to prevent him from escaping. The power to arrest is complete where there is submission to the custody by word or action. While making an arrest, if a person resists, the police may use some force or use such reasonable means to effect the arrest, but not to be handcuffed. 

Section 46 of the Criminal Procedure Code contemplates three modes of arrest as follows: - 

Submission of the arrestee to custody by word or action; 

Touching of the body of the person to be arrested; and 

Confining the body of such person. 

The arrest is a kind of restraint on the liberty of the arrested person.Unless there is submission as contemplated in Section 46 of the CrPC, actual physical contact will be necessary to effect the arrest. In brief, an arrest is a formal act of taking a person into police custody. Arrest in cognizable offences is not mandatory in offences punishable up to seven years and Section 41 and 41A place a check on arbitrary power to arrest. 

Arrest of Women

Section 46(1) of the CrPC states, “... Provided that where a woman is to be arrested, unless the circumstances indicate to the contrary, her submission to custody on an oral intimation of arrest shall be presumed and, unless the circumstances otherwise require or unless the police officer is a female, the police officer shall not touch the person of the woman for making her arrest. 

Section 46(4) of the CrPC states,Save in exceptional circumstances, no woman shall be arrested after sunset and before sunrise, and where such exceptional circumstances exist, the woman police officer shall, by making a written report, obtain the prior permission of the Judicial Magistrate of the first class within whose local jurisdiction the offence is committed or the arrest is to be made. 

According to Section 51(2) of the CrPC, when it is necessary to search female, the search shall be done by another female with strict regard to decency. And body search of females should only be carried out by women and with strict regard to decency. 

Distinction Between ‘Arrest’ and ‘Custody’

The terms “arrest” and “custody” are not synonymous. It is true that in every arrest, there is custody involved, but there is difference. Custody may not amount to arrest in certain cases. The word custody,” as per Section 27 of the Indian Evidence Act, does not mean physical custody by arrest. When a person on arrival at police station states to the police officer present there that he has committed an offence or has done something which amounts to an offence, he submits to the custody. Custody means committing a person to prison. 

“Arrest” is a mode of formally taking a person in police custody. What amounts to arrest is laid down in express terms in Section 46 of the CrPC. The word “ custody,” which is found in the Evidence Act, only denote surveillance or restriction on the movement of the person concerned which may be complete or partial. A person can be stated to be in judicial custody when he surrenders before a court. 

The word “custody also includes the circumstances in which the accused can be said to have come into the hands of a police officer or can be said to have been under some sort of surveillance or restriction. The concept of being into custody, therefore, cannot be equated with the concept of formal arrest, there being difference between the two,as held by Bombay High Court in Harbans Singh vs State (AIR 1970). 

Arrest Without a Warrant

Article 21 of the Constitution contains provisions that protect the personal liberty of a citizen. It provides that, “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.” 

Article 22 of the Constitution and Section 50 to 57 of the CrPC provide safeguards against unlawful arrest. The power of the police to arrest a person is limited to persons who are accused or concerned with the offences, or suspects thereof. 

Section 41 of the CrPC enumerates the following circumstances when any police officer may, without an order from a magistrate or a warrant, arrest a person: 

Who has been concerned or involved in any cognizable offence, or against whom a reasonable complaint has been made, or reliable information has been received or a reasonable suspicion exists of his having been so concerned; or 

Who has been a proclaimed offender either under the CrPC or by the order of state government; or 

Who is in possession of an unlawful thing; or has been a suspect of housebreaking etc.; or 

In whose possession any stolen property or such other illegal contraband etc. has been found that is related to an offence; or 

Who has been an offender of obstructing a police officer while in the execution of his duty, or who has escaped, or attempted to escape, from lawful custody; or 

Who is reasonably a suspect of being a deserter of Army or other Reserved Forces of the Union Government; or 

Against whom a reasonable complaint has been made, or there is credible information of being a suspect of committing an offence; 

Besides Section 41 of the CrPC, various special and local Acts also envisage provisions concerning an arrest without warrant. 

Rights of an Arrested Person

In the event of an arrest, the person’s liberty is undoubtedly affected. Personal Liberty is too precious a thing to be taken lightly by anyone, much less the State and its functionaries. Nothing could be more precious and sacrosanct than the liberty of an individual. The liberty of an individual, therefore, is a matter of great constitutional importance in our system of governance. 

The right to life includes the right to live with human dignity, which includes the ability to freely movabout and mix and minglwith fellow human beings. 

The third report of the National Police Commission,on page 32, suggested that an arrest can be made only under the following circumstances: 

When the case involves grave offences like murder, dacoity, robbery, rape etc., and it is necessary to arrest the accused and bring the movements of the accused under restraint to infuse confidence among the terror-stricken victim; 

The accused is likely to evade the process of law and may abscond; 

The accused is showing violent behaviour and is likely to commit further offences unless his movement are brought under the restraint; and 

The accused is habitual offender and unless kept in custody he is likely to commit similar offences again. 


Bare Act – Indian Penal Code 1860

Bare Act – Criminal Procedure code 1973

AtoZ criminal trial – Capital Law House

SSC Online