What is an appropriate adult?
An appropriate adult (AA) is responsible for protecting (or 'safeguarding') the rights and welfare of a child or 'mentally vulnerable' adult who is either detained by police or is interviewed under caution voluntarily. The role was created alongside the the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984.
Appropriate adults are distinctly different from other supporters a person might have, such as solicitor, intepreter or mental health worker. They have specific rights and responsibilities that are largely detailed in the PACE Codes of Practice, in particular Code C.
Here's a summary of what an AA does and what difference they make.
The Home Office summarises the key responsibilities as:-
- To support, advise and assist the child or young person while in detention, including during any interview
- To ensure that the child or young person understands their rights and that you have a role in protecting their rights
- To observe whether the police are acting properly, fairly and with respect for the rights of the child or young person and to tell them if they are not.
- To assist with communication between the child or young person and the police.
The PACE Codes are long, complicated and regularly change, which can make it challenging for a person who is not trained to be effective. For more information on the role, go to the Guidance section and download our short or detailed guides.
How do I become an appropriate adult?
Visit our section on becoming an appropriate adult to find out more.
Who do appropriate adults support?
CHILDREN (10 TO 17)
- If anyone appears to be under 17, they shall in the absence of clear evidence that they are older, be treated as a juvenile
- If anyone appears to have attained the age of 17 and to be under the age of 18, they shall in the absence of clear evidence that they are older, be treated as a 17-year-old
- If an officer has any suspicion, or is told in good faith, that a person of any age may be mentally disordered or otherwise mentally vulnerable, in the absence of clear evidence to dispel that suspicion, the person shall be treated as such
- This is the case even if a healthcare professional decides the formal definition of a mental disorder is not met
- A person is ‘mentally vulnerable’ if they may not understand the significance of what is said, of questions or of their replies, because of their mental state or capacity
- Mental disorder means ‘any disorder or disability of mind’ as per the Mental Health Act 1983 s.1(2))
- Relevant conditions include mental illness, personality disorders, Asperger syndrome and autistic spectrum disorders, learning disabilities and learning difficulties.
Who can be an appropriate adult?
- parents or other family members
- friends or carers
- social workers
- charity workers
- specalist appropropriate adults either paid or voluntary
- anyone under the age of 18
- anyone who has received admissions prior to attending
- anyone who might be a suspect, victim, witness or otherwise involved in the investigation
- solicitors and independent custody visitors at the police station in those capacities
- police or employees of the police
- the principal of a child's educational establishment (unless waiting would cause unreasonable delay and the offence is not against that establishment)
- a person suspected of involvement in the commission, preparation or instigation of terrorism
- a person may not sit as a Magistrate in the same local justice area in which they act as an appropriate adult
Does NAAN recruit appropriate adults?
However, as the national membership charity for local AA schemes (and anyone else interested in appropriate adults) we offer information and we can help you find a local scheme.
Visit our 'becoming an appropriate adult' section to find out more.
Are appropriate adults required for 'voluntary interviews'?
More on the legal framework.
Do appropriate adults support vulnerable victims or witnesses?
Do appropriate adults support children and vulnerable adults in court?
The appropriate adult has no role in court.
For some defendants it may be possible to secure the support of a communications specialist known as an 'intermediary'. It is up to the judges to decide whether one is needed. The intermediary provides an independent, professional assessment and clear recommendations to the court. They may be provided for part of the trial or all of it. The court can claim the costs of an intermediary from the Government.
Providers of intermediaries include:
Do appropriate adults support vulnerable children in age assessment interviews?
The role of an AA in local authority age asessment interviews is not the same as that in the criminal justice system and NAAN does not provide guidance for the role. Please see the ADCS Age Assessment Guidance and the Coram Children's Legal Centre Migrant Children's Project Factsheet.
Should a solicitor be called?
NAAN recommends that appropriate adults should always encourage a juvenile or vulnerable adult to seek legal advice.
Appropriate adults have the right to insist on a solicitor attending if they consider it is the best interests of the individual. This often overcomes the person's objection (which is usually fear that waiting for a legal advisor will take time).
The final decision as to whether or not to actually see or talk to a legal representative once they have attended rests with the detainee. Solicitors who attend at the request of an AA but are not seen by the client will still be paid the standard legal aid fixed fee.