There to Help

26/08/2015 - 'There to Help' report launch

NAAN publishes the report of the Home Secretary's commission on AAs for mentally vulnerable adults.


Visit the There to Help page to download the report.


A report commissioned by the Home Secretary has found that up to a quarter of a million people who have learning disabilities, mental illness or autistic spectrum disorders, are not receiving the support of an ‘appropriate adult’ while being detained or questioned by police – despite it being a legal requirement.

Parliament introduced appropriate adults (AAs) in the 1980s following miscarriages of justice against vulnerable people. The AA role includes ensuring effective communication, welfare, understanding, fair treatment and helping people exercise their rights – such as having a legal advisor present.

Using police data the report, entitled There to Help, shows appropriate adults are currently only used in around 45,000 of the 1.4 million detentions and voluntary interviews of adults each year. This is despite an estimated 280,000 (one in five) involving a person who is ‘mentally vulnerable’ under rules regulating police powers.

When Diana Smith’s teenage son was arrested at the family home, she told police about his brain disorder which means he has difficulty concentrating and often speaks before thinking. She knew about the need for an AA from her work in the justice system but was told he didn’t need one and was not allowed to support him in the police station, leaving her worried and angry.

A legal duty on local authorities means organised AA schemes for children exist nationwide, many using trained volunteers. However, there is no such duty for mentally vulnerable adults and there are no organised schemes in many areas.

The new report found police were least likely to identify vulnerability in areas with no organised AA scheme. Custody officers reported spending hours trying to find a suitable AA, admitting to sometimes asking random members of the public or proceeding without one.

Chris Bath FRSA, chief executive of the National Appropriate Adult Network, the charity which led the study said, “People with learning disabilities, mental ill health, traumatic brain injuries or autistic spectrum disorders are some of the most vulnerable citizens, and state detention is perhaps the most vulnerable situation. We have a moral and a legal duty to ensure appropriate adults are available wherever people live.”

Home Secretary Theresa May welcomed the report saying: “Appropriate adults provide vital support and help to de-mystify what can be a confusing, sometimes frightening, experience in police custody.

“Evidence suggests there is a lack of appropriate adults to safeguard the welfare and rights of mentally vulnerable adults in police custody. That is why I commissioned this review to determine where the problems lie.

“The status quo is not acceptable and I am concerned that vulnerable adults are not always receiving the support of an appropriate adult. We are currently examining the recommendations and implementation options to ensure that vulnerable people are provided with the support they are entitled to.

“I am grateful to NAAN for their continued dedication to ensure fairness and humane treatment of both vulnerable adults and children when they are in trouble and in police custody.”

Lord Bradley, author of The Bradley Report, said,“The police work in a difficult environment with incredible time pressures. Trained appropriate adults must be quickly available wherever they are needed. Along with liaison and diversion, and street triage, they are critical part of a coherent approach to vulnerabilities which both saves money and delivers better outcomes”.

Martyn Underhill, Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset and chair of the Independent Custody Visitors Association said, “We are clearly not getting it right for the more vulnerable members of our communities who need that extra protection and support. When a vulnerable person comes into contact with the police, their needs deserve to be properly identified, with a needs assessment made, and for them to then be dealt with quickly and fairly. For this to happen, every area needs an organised, trained appropriate adult scheme which is totally independent of the police.”

Avtar Bhatoa, Chair of the Law Society’s Criminal Law Committee,said,"To ensure fair justice for all, mentally vulnerable people need the help of an appropriate adult during what can be a daunting and confusing time. With the right support, mentally vulnerable people are less likely to suffer an injustice or to waive their right to free legal advice through fear and misunderstanding, which can compound their disadvantage in the justice system. It is vital that the recommendations in this important report are implemented."

Gísli Guðjónsson CBE FBPsS, Professor of Forensic Psychology (whose expert testimony saw the convictions of the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four overturned) said, “Mentally vulnerable people are at increased risk of providing information which is inaccurate, unreliable or misleading. “The involvement of an appropriate adult to facilitate communication, ensure they understand their rights and are treated fairly, is absolutely critical to a fair process”.

James Bullion, Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, said, “Helping to support and safeguard our most vulnerable citizens, whether they are victims or suspects, is central to the role of adult social care services. Many local authorities have a long history of providing social workers or funding dedicated AA schemes. ADASS supports the report’s recommendations and is keen to work with central Government and local partners to ensure sustainable services are available for all.”

- End -

Visit the There to Help page to download the report.

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