For children, PACE 1984 specifies that the 'appropriate adult' means: -
- a parent or guardian or, if he is in the care of a local authority or voluntary organisation, a person representing that authority or organisation; or
- a social worker of a local authority; or
- if neither of these are available, some other responsible adult aged 18 (subject to a number of explicit exclusions).
Legally speaking, a wide range of people can fulfil the appropriate adult role for a vulnerable adult. The PACE codes of practice state that the appropriate adult must be: -
- a relative, guardian or other person responsible for their care or custody;
- someone experienced in dealing with vulnerable adults
- if neither of these are available, some other responsible adult aged 18
The PACE Codes state that it may be more satisfactory if the appropriate adult is someone experienced or trained in their care, rather than a relative. However, if a vulnerable adult prefers a relative, their wishes should, if practicable, be respected.
A number of people are prohibited from acting as an appropriate adult. A critical requirement is independence from the police in order to avoid conflicts of interest and risks to the admissibility of evidence.
Links to the police
Juveniles (under 18) and adults
PACE Code C (1.7, 1F) and Code H (1.13, 1F) specify that the appropriate adult for a juvenile (under 18) or adult may not be:
- a police officer or a person employed by the police;
- a person who is under the direction or control of the chief officer of a police force;
- a person who provides services under contractual arrangements to assist that force in relation to the discharge of its chief officer’s functions;
Juveniles (under 18) only
PACE 1984 Act sections 63B (drug testing) and 66ZA (youth cautions) as amended by the Policing and Crime Act 2017 section 79 states that an appropriate adult for a person under 18 years old for may not be:
- a person employed for, or engaged on, police purposes; and
- “police purposes” has the meaning given by section 101(2) of the Police Act 1996
and the Police Act 1996 s.101(2) states that:
In this Act “police purposes”, in relation to a police area, includes the purposes of—
(a) special constables appointed for that area,
(b) police cadets undergoing training with a view to becoming members of the police force maintained for that area, and
(c) civilians employed for the purposes of that force or of any such special constables or cadets.
PACE Code C also prohibits:
- a suspect, victim, witness or anyone otherwise involved in the investigation (including parents);
- anyone who has received admissions prior to acting as the AA (including parents).
- an independent custody visitor (ICV) who is present at the police station and acting in that capacity;
- a solicitor who is present at the police station and acting in that capacity.
Liaison and diversion staff may not act as the AA under the NHS national Liaison and Diversion Operating Model paragraph 8.3. There are two main reasons why L&D staff should not act as the AA:
- They have an important role in relation to the identification of need (and this would generate a conflict of interest);
- They are not resourced to carry out the role.
For further information about the interaction between L&D and AAs, see the NAAN briefing for liaison and diversion teams.
 The Home Office has said it is acceptable for a close family member (e.g. parents or partner) is also police officer to be the appropriate adult subject to them not being involved in any way in the investigation.
 ICVs are responsible for monitoring/inspecting the functioning of police custody, including the effectiveness of appropriate adult arrangements. This raises a conflict of interest. The PACE Strategy Board has unanimously accepted a paper proposing that PACE Code be amended to the effect that a person may not be an ICV and an AA in the same police force area.
In the first ten years following PACE 1984, social workers generally fulfilled the role for both children and vulnerable adults whenever parents and other family members were: -
- unavailable (for example due to childcare, work commitments, travel difficulties);
- unwilling (for example due to their relationship with the child or police);
- unsuitable (for example due to being a victim or potential witness).
In the mid-1990s, the Home Office and Audit Commission responded to concerns over the availability and cost of social workers acting as AAs. Local authorities were encouraged to develop and co-ordinate teams of volunteers. Some took this route, while others continued to embed the role into that of a social worker.
The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 made it a statutory duty for local authorities to ensure provision of specified youth services, including appropriate adults. From this point, organised provision for children was typically delivered by youth offending team (YOT) officers and/or volunteers co-ordinated by them.
As the statutory duty did not extend to vulnerable adults, provision has been subject to greater variance. Financial pressures have continued to move the role away from social workers, though adult social care continues to be by far the largest financial contributor.
There are now a relatively wide range of models of provision, ranging from ad-hoc use of healthcare staff, to continued use of social workers and YOT officers, to the commissioning of private and charitable organisations.