In the new prEUgovor policy paper experts from Group 484 analyse the legal institution of citizen’s arrest in Serbia, and dwell specifically on conditions for civil arrest.

The legal institution of citizen’s arrest in the Republic of Serbia

There are few relevant domestic sources on the concept of citizen’s arrest, which is why prEUgovor has decided to highlight the importance of this institution of criminal law with the issues that may emerge in its application, touching briefly on specific comparative legal provisions and examples available from practice. 

Several cases of citizen’s arrest have been reported by the Serbian media, and in a very questionable manner from the point of view of professional and ethical media standards, such as: ‘CITIZEN’S ARREST IN NOVI SAD: Youngsters subdue car thief and keep him until the police arrive’, ‘Hate, lies and patrols: Serbian anti-migrant brigade is playing with fire’, ‘Citizens catch paedophile!’. There is a lack of public knowledge about the application of the legal institution of so-called ‘citizen’s arrest’ in Serbia.

Shedding more light on this legal institution is extremely important given the present-day circumstances and widespread efforts towards democratising society, where it is particularly demanding to ensure a normative presence, exercise and protection of human and civic rights and freedoms in accordance with constitutional guarantees, and to ensure respect for the principle of proportionality.

Ever since the legal institution of so-called ‘citizen’s arrest’ was incorporated in the applicable criminal procedural legislation of the Republic of Serbia, it appears that the main challenge has been how to strike a balance between the pursuit of the legitimate interest of fighting crime on the one hand, and the potential misuse of the powers conferred on individuals in this manner, on the other.

More specifically, clear boundaries must be set when it comes to the direct participation of civil society in solving crime and arresting perpetrators, so that the main purpose of the criminal-law concept of deprivation of liberty would not be undermined and so that we do not arrive at a point where such situations open up space for certain individuals or groups to pursue different objectives. Indeed, the legislator’s under-regulation of the conditions for arrest for a criminal offence may have far-reaching and long-term ramifications for the rights of both the citizens using this sort of power, and perpetrators, which may lead to immense damage to the rule of law in society.

For this reason, it is highly advisable to press strongly, through improved legal provisions and effective monitoring of such situations in practice, for this legal institution to preserve its main purpose, which is to detain individuals and make them available to state authorities in the shortest time possible. The efficiency of the Serbian criminal-law system would thereby be improved without putting the life and limb of individuals or other legally protected values at (disproportionate) risk.

The publication is published as part of the project PrEUgovor for Rule of Law and EU integration of Serbia supported by Balkan Trust for Democracy, a project of the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Belgrade. Opinions expressed in this publication do not necessarily represent those of the abovementioned donors, or its partners.