Rules on who may act as AA

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.

on Thursday December 07 by Chris Bath
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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).
on Thursday December 07 by Chris Bath
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A number of people are forbidden from acting as the appropriate adult. A critical requirement is independence (both actual and perceived), especially from the police, in order to avoid conflicts of interest and risks to the admissibility of evidence.  

Links to the police

PACE Code C (1.7, 1F) and Code H (1.13, 1F) specify that the appropriate adult may not be:

  • a police officer or a person employed by the police;[1]
  • 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;

PACE 1984 Act sections 63B and 66ZA (as amended by the Policing and Crime Act 2017 section 80) state that an appropriate adult 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 (which includes "civilians employed for the purposes of that force").

Other reasons

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[2];
  • 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


[1] 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.

[2] 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 Straetgy 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.

on Thursday December 07 by Chris Bath
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