The aim of appropriate adults is to safeguard the welfare and rights of vulnerable people while in police custody. They exist to reduce the risk of miscarriages of justice carried out against vulnerable people when obtaining evidence from them during a police investigation.
Who do appropriate adults support?
Appropriate adults support vulnerable suspects of crime who are detained and/or interviewed by the police. There are two categories of people who are entitled to an appropriate adult:
- Children and Young People (Under 18-year-olds); and
- vulnerable adults: they may include people, for example, with mental health issues, who have difficulty understanding or communicating, or are prone to confusion or suggestibility.
If the police custody officer has any reason to suspect a person may fall into either of these two categories, they must arrange for an appropriate adult to attend the police station.
An appropriate adult is required even in situations where the person says they do not want one, there is no formal medical diagnosis, there is no legal advisor present or there is no organised appropriate adult scheme in the area.
What do appropriate adults do?
Appropriate adults are expected, for example, to:
- ensure the person understands what is happening to them and why, as well as their rights;
- be present when the person is informed of their rights, during the police interview, when fingerprints or samples are taken, if a strip or intimate search is conducted and at the point of charge;
- support and advise the person, especially when they are being questioned;
- observe whether the police are acting fairly and treating the person with respect for their rights; and
- facilitate communication between the police and the person.
The appropriate adult may not, however, provide legal advice. Unlike communications with a lawyer, it is important to note, communications with an appropriate adult are not privileged. In other words, anything that is said to an appropriate adult maybe later disclosed in legal proceedings.