What’s the difference between being arrested and being charged?

Q – Can you explain the difference between being arrested and being charged for the suspect and for the public at large?

A – The short answer is that someone is arrested when they have been detained by a Police Officer on the suspicion of committing a criminal offence. When they are charged, a formal decision has been taken (usually by the CPS) that there is a ‘realistic prospect of conviction’ and that it is ‘in the public interest’ for a prosecution to happen. Criminal proceedings proper have then commenced.

Once someone is charged, they will either be bailed to attend the magistrates’ court for the first appearance or kept in police custody overnight and taken to the magistrates’ court the next day.

The Contempt of Court laws are very important here. There is a rule of ‘strict liability‘ (which means that it doesn’t matter if you intended to break the law or not) that applies when criminal proceedings are ‘active’. This means that it is an offence to publish anything “which create a substantial risk that the course of public justice will be seriously impeded or prejudiced”. Proceedings will be ‘active’ from when someone is arrested.


Further Reading:

We will do a fuller piece shortly on what ‘arrest’ means as it is a complicated area. Not all people who are prosecuted are arrested – people can be ‘summonsed’ to Court, usually for more minor offences.

An overview of what happens at the Police Station


Contempt of Court – Law Commission Consultation

This entry was posted in Q&A on by .

About Dan Bunting

I'm a lawyer who works for myself. Legal geek, maths freak, general dullard and jack of all trades. Here’s a few views on law and occasional musings on life. Usual caveats about not relying on anything I say etc applies.

1 thought on “What’s the difference between being arrested and being charged?

  1. Pingback: 2016 minus 15: yeah but no but yeah but no | budgie's perch

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