Clever Business Law

Shopkeeper's Privilege

Clever Content

  • Words you need to know
  • What is shopkeepers privilege?
  • Rules for detaining a suspected shoplifter
  • Reasonable Grounds / Probable Cause explained.

Words you need to know

  • Probable Cause: Evidence which leads to a reasonable belief that a person has committed or will commit a crime.
  • Confine / confinement: To keep (someone or something) within limits: to prevent (someone or something) from going beyond a particular limit, area, etc. : to keep (a person or animal) in a place (such as a prison).
  • Shoplifter: Someone who steals goods from a shop.

What is Shopkeepers Privilege?

A shopkeeper ‘who reasonably believes that the plaintiff has stolen or is attempting to steal something from the defendant shopkeeper may detain the plaintiff in a reasonable manner for a reasonable amount of time to investigate’.

Basically, this is a privilege (right) given to a merchant to detain a suspected shoplifter (thief) on or near their grounds. This may also include store security staff or their agents.

This may happen when a shopkeeper sees a customer attempting to steal an item from their store. It allows the shopkeeper some authority to act on their suspicions, even if they end up being wrong. It allows them to detain a suspected shoplifter for a reasonable period of time so that they can carry out an investigation.

Reasonable Grounds / Probable Cause

Suspicion of theft is not enough. Reasonable grounds (also known as ‘probable cause’), requires three main steps as evidence for a ‘reasonable suspicion’ of shoplifting:

  • They witness the shoplifter select and conceal or carry away the merchandise.
  • They maintain continuous observation of the shoplifter.
  • They witness the shoplifter fail to pay for the merchandise.

Rules for detaining a suspected shoplifter

A shopkeeper must also follow the law when they detain a person.

When detaining a suspected shoplifter, the shopkeeper:

  • Must have reasonable grounds to detain the suspect
  • Can only detain the suspect for a reasonable amount of time
  • Must detain the suspect in a reasonable manner.

Duration: The shopkeeper cannot hold a suspect for hours. A reasonable amount of time is generally considered to be the amount of time it takes for the police to arrive or to carry out a reasonable investigation.

Location: The shopkeeper cannot chase the suspected shoplifter around the town and then detain them. They can only apprehend the shoplifter inside or near the store.

Force: The shopkeeper must not use force to detain the person unless the suspect is trying to harm the shopkeeper or run away and then they can only use reasonable, non-deadly force if necessary. Otherwise, they will face charges of assault and battery (see: )

Confinement: The shopkeeper must find a way to keep the suspect on the premises without force or arrest. Suspects must not be kept in confined areas as this can lead to claims of false imprisonment.

Arrest by a private citizen is against the law. Only police or other authorised authority can arrest the suspect.

If the shopkeeper fails to do any of these, they may face charges of false imprisonment, assault and battery.

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Posted in Business Law, Business Law - Introduction.