What is an appropriate adult?



Public concern over the Maxwell Confait case in 1972 led Parliament, via a Royal Commission, to pass the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and its Codes of Practice (PACE). PACE set out the rules and safeguards for policing in England and Wales including role of the appropriate adult (AA). The principal intention was to reduce the risk of miscarriages of justice as a result of evidence being obtained from vulnerable suspects which, by virtue of their vulnerability, led to unsafe and unjust convictions.


To safeguard the interests of vulnerable people who are suspected of a criminal offence, ensuring that they are able to participate effectively and are treated in a fair and just manner.


  • Vulnerable people are treated fairly with respect for their legal rights and welfare entitlements
  • Vulnerable people are able to participate effectively in procedures related to the investigation and/or their detention


The appropriate adult is expected to be an active participant and their activities include:

Observe and check: -

  • whether the police are treating a person in compliance with their rights and welfare entitlements;
  • whether a person’s condition/state has deteriorated or otherwise changed;
  • whether a person understands the meaning and significance of all information provided to them (including regarding their rights and entitlements, accusations against them, the caution, questions put to them and procedures including disposal options, bail conditions) and of their own replies;
  • whether police and other parties have understood the meaning as intended by the person.

Advise, support and assist: -

  • a person whenever they are required for any procedure as required by the PACE Codes, including: -
    • rights and entitlements;
    • cautions and special warnings;
    • interviews and written statements;
    • ID procedures & consent (e.g. samples, fingerprints, footwear impressions, photos);
    • strip searches and intimate searches;
    • seeking and giving of consent wherever required;
    • reviews of detention;
    • charging and related actions (e.g. bail, police cautions).
  • a person, police and third parties whenever necessary to enable effective participation by facilitating effective communication;
  • a person to understand and execute their rights
  • a person aged under 18 for procedures as required by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998
    • youth cautions (s.66ZA)
    • youth conditional cautions (s.66B)

Inform and intervene: -

  • where they believe the treatment of a vulnerable adult may not be in compliance with rights and welfare entitlements, escalating through the ranks until compliance is achieved;
  • if they believe the person’s condition (in relation to their vulnerability) has changed significantly;
  • where they consider it would be in the person’s best interests for a solicitor to attend;
  • wherever necessary to achieve the specified outcomes (including engaging with solicitors and medical professionals)

Wider impact

The police and justice system benefit from:

  • evidence gathering is more effective and efficient with a better quality of evidence
  • courts have increased confidence in evidence, reducing the risk of inadmissible evidence
  • increased legitimacy due to greater public confidence in the criminal justice system;
  • increased efficiency because there fewer voir dire (trials within trials) are required in order to determine the admissibility of evidence and fewer appeals raised to higher courts;
  • increased effectiveness increases because there is a reduced risk of miscarriages of justice and a reduced risk that the guilty are not being held accountable due to inadmissible evidence.

There are a number of closely related impacts of relevance to policing, health and social care including:

  • preventing self-harm and suicide
  • safeguarding children and adults from abuse and neglect
  • improving mental or physical health outcomes
  • improving wellbeing.

Research with people who have been supported by appropiate adults has indicated common themes related to the promotion of wellbeing (including mental health, emotional wellbeing, personal dignity and freedom from abuse). For example, research by Bristol University found that service users: 

  • felt supported emotionally, and more protected against mockery, intimidation, fear, dehumanising, bullying and isolation
  • appreciated the support for reasons other than those defined in PACE (identifying other personal factors such as gender or ethnicity as important in generating vulnerability)


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