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Steven Brown on ABC Hobart Drive with Lucy Breaden Radio Interview

Have you ever called out someone you caught shoplifting?

As the rising cost of living bites, retailers and shopkeepers are increasingly having to deal with shoplifting and theft and it’s not uncommon for shoppers themselves to take the law into their own hands but how wise is it and how dangerous is that?

Steven Brown joined Lucy Breaden on ABC Radio Hobart and ABC Radio Northern Tasmania to discuss a citizen’s arrest.

TRANSCRIPT


Speaker 1:

Keeping you updated every day. Lucy Breaden on ABC Radio Hobart and ABC Northern Tasmania.

Lucy Breaden:

Have you ever called out someone you’ve caught shoplifting? As the rising cost of living bites, retailers and shopkeepers are increasingly having to deal with shoplifting and theft. And it’s not uncommon for shoppers themselves to take the law into their own hands. But how wise is it? How dangerous is that? Let’s check in with Steven Brown, lawyer and principal of Lynn and Brown Lawyers. Good afternoon.

Steven Brown:

Hi, Lucy and listeners.

Lucy Breaden:

So this sounds pretty dangerous. What is a citizen’s arrest?

Steven Brown:

Yeah, it’s a very interesting one-on-one fraught with a lot of problems, Lucy. So a citizen’s arrest is basically where anyone other than a police officer seeks to detain someone on the basis that they believe they’ve committed some criminal offense.

Lucy Breaden:

How wise is doing that?

Steven Brown:

Yeah, fraught with a great deal of problems. So you’d want to be very certain that a criminal offense is being committed because if you did then go and detain someone, you could be liable for criminal charges yourself of both false imprisonment and an assault. So quite serious criminal charges that you would face if the person has not committed a criminal offense and really careful with the amount of force that would be used.

Lucy Breaden:

Oh, okay. So if you are someone committed an offense and then you did a citizen’s arrest, but they deny it, would there have to be some video footage of that?

Steven Brown:

Well, you’d have to have some evidence. So in Tasmania, it’s enshrined in the Criminal Code Act and in section 39 of that act is what gives citizens the right to actually make an arrest. So there is actual legislation that gives this power to be done, but it is on the basis that an offense is being committed. So you would want some very strong evidence in case the person says, “Well no, I didn’t commit an offense. And therefore, police officer, I want you to actually charge the person that’s detained me with an offense, not me for stealing something.”

Lucy Breaden:

And you also don’t really want to be a hero and risk your own life because you might not know what weapons or what they’re carrying or what they could do as a result.

Steven Brown:

Yeah, definitely. And we’ve seen that occur on many occasions, and what the person should be doing if they do go to it, if they should be making some statement to the effect of, “I’m arresting you, I’m arresting you because you’ve committed an offense and I’m going to arrest you.” So making it quite clear the basis on which you are maybe exerting some degree of force, which has to be proportional to the nature of what they’re doing. So if it’s a shoplifting, it would’ve to be very light because it’s not a physical assault or something endangering someone’s life that’s occurring here. Quite different if the person was coming at another person with a knife or a gun or something of that nature. So when we’re talking about a shoplifting offense, it’s quite low on the order of criminal offenses and therefore the amount of force would have to be very minimal, being proportional to the offense.

Lucy Breaden:

Okay. Wow, that’s a lot to take on. I kind of didn’t actually think that a citizen’s arrest could happen in Australia. For some reason, I thought it was just a US thing.

Steven Brown:

Yeah, no, as I say, there is actually in the criminal code that allows it. We don’t see it very often. Yet I was actually walking through a shopping center the other month and I saw someone come up to a security guard and said, “Oh, I’ve just walked out of Woolworths and I think someone is just shoplifted from there.” And I got the impression that the employees were doing nothing about it, which is probably pretty wise. And they’re probably under restructured to do that because it could be quite serious, the ramifications for them either of been charged with an offense or being injured themself.

So the security guard was going to go and see what he could do about it. But the security guards are under the same … have the same rights and obligations as any other citizen that’s not a police officer.

Lucy Breaden:

There was something that happened, something similar here recently, and it ended in a stabbing, an alleged stabbing. So I think, yeah, we need to be really, really careful about the circumstances and sometimes it’s just not worth it. It’s just not worth your life.

Francis in Franklin asks, “What’s your view of intervening if you see someone abusing another person physically, verbally? Should you be a silent bystander?” I guess that’s more of an opinion, but yeah, can you speak legally to that?

Steven Brown:

Yeah. Well, you can commit an … If they’re committing an assault, then you may want to … and particularly if you think that their life is being endangered or a serious risk of serious injury, you may want to consider doing something about it. But you’re of course in that situation going to potentially put your life and health at risk. But if you’re willing to take that risk and yeah, the thing that you have to be really careful of is it’s got to be proportional. And these things can get out of hand very quickly, so you’re putting yourself in a highly risky situation.

Lucy Breaden:

We’re talking about citizens arrests with Steven Brown from Lynn and Brown Lawyers. If you’ve seen something like this before, weigh in please. 0-4-3-8-9-2-2-9-3-6. And how did it end up? Maybe you’ve done one yourself, a citizen’s arrest. Not entirely recommended and it does come with some legal ramifications, especially if you don’t have evidence of that person committing a crime. Are these types of things on the rise now that it seems that more people are committing crimes?

Steven Brown:

It certainly, it would seem to be the case that with the cost of living going up and that there is probably some more shoplifting occurring, I haven’t seen more situations of they’re being citizens arrests because I think people are quite cautious and we have the situation like you were talking about, where sometimes people don’t try to do it and they then find themselves the victim of a serious assault. So I think people are still generally very cautious and unlikely to intervene if it is shoplifting on a minor level.

Lucy Breaden:

It’s been wonderful to have you on, Steven. Thank you so much for weighing in on this. And just remind us, we need to make sure if we do something like this, that we have pretty hard evidence that the person has done the wrong thing,

Steven Brown:

Pretty hard evidence. And make sure that if whatever force you are using would have to be minimal if we’re dealing with shoplifting because it’s got to be proportional to the nature of the offense.

Lucy Breaden:

Excellent. Proportional to the nature of the offense. Appreciate your time. Thank you, Steven.

Steven Brown:

Thank you, Lucy.

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