What are my rights if I’m arrested or detained?

When can I be arrested?

A person may be arrested under the following circumstances:

  • If a warrant of arrest has been issued (in which case you are entitled to a copy of the warrant); or
  • If a police officer witnesses a person committing a crime; or
  • If a police officer has probable cause to believe that a person was involved in committing a crime.

When approached by a police officer, you should remain calm and follow the police officer’s instructions.  Do not resist arrest, as this may constitute a crime, and never offer to pay a bribe.

“If you think that there is a chance that you may be arrested, carry your identity document (or passport with a valid visa/permit), proof of residence, and student card (if applicable) with you.”

What are my rights when being arrested?

“You have the right to remain silent and you should consult with a lawyer before giving the police any information, except for your name and home address.”

  • The reason for your arrest must be explained to you at the time of arrest. This means that you have the right to be informed of the charges on which you are being arrested.
  • Importantly, you have the right to remain silent, and to be informed promptly of this right and the consequences of not remaining silent. Any information given willingly to an officer may be used against you in court. You may not be compelled to make any confession or admission that could be used in evidence against you.
  • You have the right to be brought before a court as soon as reasonably possible, but not later than 48 hours after the arrest. If the period of 48 hours expires outside ordinary court hours or on a day which is not an ordinary court day, the accused must be brought before a court not later than the end of the first following court day.
  • Once arrested, you are required to tell the police your name and home address, but a police officer may not request any further information from you (including in respect of your activities or organizations you are involved with).

What are my rights when I’m detained?

After an arrest you will, more often than not, be detained at a police station. In detention you may be searched. You may however not be searched without your consent and a person of the same sex should conduct the search. The police have the right to take your fingerprints and take photographs.

While you are detained, you have the right to:

  • Be informed promptly of the reason for your detention and your rights in a language that you understand.
  • Consult with an attorney of your choice, and should you not have the means to appoint an attorney of your choice, to have a legal practitioner assigned by the state at the state’s expense and to be promptly informed of such rights.
  • Be contained in conditions that are consistent with human dignity, including at least exercise and the provision, at state expense, of adequate accommodation, nutrition, reading material and medical treatment.
  • Communicate with, and be visited by, your spouse or partner, next of kin, chosen religious counselor, and chosen medical practitioner.
  • Be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Police bail and warning

For minor offences ‘police bail’ can be granted or the police may release you on a warning. In the case of police bail the investigating officer will propose an amount for bail and an agreement should then be reached on the amount of bail. After payment of this amount the arrested person may be released from detention. There should always be an officer on duty of sufficient rank to make the decision to grant or refuse police bail.

Admission of guilt fines

Always request clarity on whether you are paying for bail or an admission of guilt fine. Admission of guilt fines reflect as a criminal record. Before paying such a fine, you should consult with a lawyer.

For additional information see:

Resources for Activists


Please note that the above overview does not constitute legal advice. Please consult the Terms and Conditions for the use of Protest Info or contact the LRC for further information.