All stakeholders need to be clear on the purpose and role of appropriate adults.

The term can mean different things to different people. The key expectations and objectives of the vulnerable suspect may not align exactly with those of the health and social care teams, police and crime commissioners, police officers or the wider justice system. It’s important to listen to the views of all relevant stakeholders and to identify elements that can increase ‘buy-in’.

However, it is critical to be clear about the role as it is defined in law. Having a good understanding of the role, its aims, outcomes and activities, is an important foundation for the rest of the process.


Infographic: AAs for vulnerable adults. Source: Appropriate adult PCC-local authority partnership agreement: England  (Copyright: Home Office 2018)

Click image to enlarge.

Role of the appropriate adult graphic

To safeguard the interests of children and adults who may be mentally vulnerable when they are suspected of a criminal offence, ensuring that they are able to participate effectively and are treated in a fair and just manner.

 “…to act as appropriate adults to safeguard the interests of children and young persons detained or questioned by police officers”. 
Crime and Disorder Act 1998 s.38(4)
 “…to safeguard the rights, entitlements and welfare of juveniles and vulnerable persons to whom the provisions of this and any other Code of Practice apply ”. 
PACE Code C (revised July 20181.7A
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People who are being investigated in relation to their involvement, or otherwise, in an offence are:

  • treated fairly with respect for their legal rights and welfare entitlements
  • able to participate effectively in procedures related to the investigation and any period of detention

A person is treated fairly when they are treated in compliance with their legal rights and welfare entitlements under relevant international obligations, legislation, codes of practice and approved professional practice. These include, but are not limited to: -

  1. freedom from abuse, bullying, threats, disrespectful treatment and neglect[1];
  2. freedom from unlawful restraint;
  3. an effective risk assessment by a qualified practitioner as soon as practicable and timely access to medical and mental health treatment;
  4. access to support, plus information and advice in an appropriate format on how to access it;
  5. being informed of the right to free legal advice;
  6. having someone informed that they have been detained and where they are;
  7. the right to silence;
  8. suitable accommodation, with cells that are clean, warm and lit;
  9. access to toilet and washing facilities;
  10. breaks in questioning to allow for food, drinks and rest periods;
  11. reasonable adjustments to standard provisions, criteria, practices or physical features to avoid disadvantage for people with a disability[2].

A person is able to participate effectively when they: -

  1. understand and are able to exercise their rights and entitlements (e.g. free legal advice, rest periods, food and drink, detention limits, presumption of bail);
  2. understand what investigatory and detention procedures involve (including disposals and bail conditions), why they are taking place and their significance;
  3. understand the meaning and significance of; what is said to them, questions put to them, their own replies;
  4. do not provide unreliable, misleading or self-incriminating information, without knowing or wishing to do so;
  5. do not accept or act on suggestions from others without consciously knowing or wishing to do so;
  6. are not confused or unclear about their position;
  7. are understood by police and other relevant professionals.

[1] Human Rights Act (1998), Article 2 (Right to life) includes a duty to put in place appropriate systems designed to protect the lives of individuals in state detention. According to the ECHR (2015), in relation to police detention, this includes but is not limited to bullet points 1-4 above.

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The criminal justice system benefits from:

  • the ability to hold people to account for their actions notwithstanding their age or other additional needs
  • a reduced risk of evidence being ruled inadmissible
  • 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 related impacts relevant 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 service users has indicated common themes related to the promotion of wellbeing (including mental health, emotional wellbeing, personal dignity and freedom from abuse). Jessiman (2017) 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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The appropriate adult is expected to be an active participant and their activities include: 

 “...the appropriate adult is expected, amongst other things, to: support, advise and assist them when, in accordance with this Code or any other Code of Practice, they are given or asked to provide information or participate in any procedure;
Code C 1.7A (July 2018)”.

AAs cannot give legal advice. However, in relation to information and procedures, they have a role in helping vulnerable suspects to:

  • understand their rights;
  • use their rights;
  • participate effectively.

This involves: 

  • checking whether a person understands the meaning and significance of information provided to them;
  • checking whether a person understands the meaning and significance of questions asked of them, and their own replies, including when they are asked to give their consent to procedures;
  • helping a person to understand the meaning and significance of information and questions; 
  • providing general, non-legal, advice about custody procedures and their rights, including on the scope and limit of the AA role vs accessing legal advice.

Where the suspect is a child or vulnerable person, PACE requires the presence of an AA for many procedures

on Thursday December 07 by chrisbath
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 “...the appropriate adult is expected, amongst other things, to: observe whether the police are acting properly and fairly to respect their rights and entitlements, and inform an officer of the rank of inspector or above if they consider that they are not;"
Code C 1.7A (July 2018)”.

AAs have a role in:

  • ensuring police are treating a person in compliance with their rights and entitlements;
  • observing whether a person’s condition/state has deteriorated or otherwise changed;
  • escalting issues that have not been resolved by investigating officers, detention officers or custody sergeant to higher ranked officers;
  • ensuring any issues are recorded on the interview and/or custody record so that this information is available to courts.
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 “...the appropriate adult is expected, amongst other things, to: assist them to communicate with the police whilst respecting their right to say nothing unless they want to as set out in the terms of the caution;"
Code C 1.7A (July 2018)”.

AAs have a role in:

  • helping people to understand, and be understood, when they are detained or questioned. 

AAs may not:

  • assist the interviewer in getting information or confessions that the person does not wish to give. The AA role was developed as a safeguard in response to concerns about false confessions. If the AA acts as an 'agent of the interrogation', they are not be independent of the police and courts are likely to question the reliability of evidence gained.
  • be able to meet very significant speech, language and communication needs. In some cases it may be neccessary to appoint a qualified professional (e.g. an intermediary) to conduct a formal assessment and potentially provide additional support with communication. 
on Wednesday December 05 by chrisbath
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 “...the appropriate adult is expected, amongst other things, to: help them to understand their rights and ensure that those rights are protected and respected."
Code C 1.7A (July 2018)”.

AAs have a role in:

  • checking that people understand their rights, entitlements and the caution, including by asking them questions to test understanding;
  • asking police officers to provide further explanation where required;
  • providing information or explanations about rights, entitlements and the caution;
  • talking to people who waive their right to free legal advice about any misconceptions they may have;
  • requiring a solicitor to attend where they believe it to be in the best interests of a vulnerable suspect; 
  • intervening in interviews to protect rights;
  • making representations in relation to rights, such as during reviews of detention; 
  • engaging with police, lawyers and medical professionals in the interests of protecting a person's rights.
on Thursday December 07 by chrisbath
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Mandatory presence

It is a requirement of PACE that custody officers inform the AA as soon as practicable when authorising the detention of a child or vulnerable adult.

As a minimum, AAs must be readily available for the PACE procedures for which they are required. AAs have a role throughout a detention episode, from rights and entitlements to charge and bail. However, the precise rules on involvement and physical presence are complicated and spread throughout the PACE Codes. The main elements are summarised below.

If the AA is already at the station, they must be present. If the AA is not already at the station, they must be explained again when they arrive. (Code C 3.17)

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An AA must always be present for a voluntary interview. An AA must be present for an interview in custody, except in some specified exceptional circumstances (Code C 11.15, 11.18)

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The AA must always be present. This includes samples, fingerprints, footwear impressions, photographs (Code D 2.15)

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An AA must be present unless it is a case of urgency where there is a risk of serious harm to the suspect or others. They can face away or stand outside the room if a child or adult prefers and the AA agrees. (Code C Annex A 11(c), Annex E 12)

on Friday December 08 by chrisbath
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Yes. AA must always be present both when consent is sought and received, and for the actual search. They do not have to actually be in the room if a child prefers and the AA agrees.

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It is not mandatory for the AA to be physically present (though in some cases this might be more effective). Representations can be made in person, phone or electronic device. Police must make reasonable efforts to give AA notice of the time of the review. (Code C 15.2A(c), 15.3, 15CA) 

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Police must give the AA sufficient notice of the decision about whether a person should be charged so that the AA can be present. If they are present at the station, the AA must be present for any action resulting from the decision as to whether to charge. However, police cannot keep a person detained to wait for an AA. (Code C 16.1, 16C, Annex E 1)

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In addition to mandating their presence for many procedures, the PACE Codes provide a range of powerful legal rights and powers which enable AAs to be effective.  These include: -

Access to information

AAs must be allowed to access to the custody record as soon as practicable, on request during detention and for a period of 12 months after detention

They must also have access to the contents of risk assessments (if not to do so would put them at risk)

Private consultations

A vulnerable suspect has the right to a private consultation with their AA at any time during their detention.

Securing legal advice

AAs have the power to insist on the attendance of a legal advisor where a vulnerable person has waived their right to free legal advice if the AA considers it in their best interests. They cannot force them to take the advice.

Being consulted on reviews and extensions

Be given notice of the time of reviews of detention or any decision to extend the maximum detention time; have their views sought; and make representations in person or remotely.

Intervening in interviews

AAs are expected to be proactive in securing the outcomes and can intervene if anything causes them concern (though they may not obstruct questions)

Home Office guidance states that AAs are allowed to ask for a break in an interview if a vulnerable person needs a break, legal advice or the AA wishes to speak to them, the police or the solicitor.

Professional boundaries

All stakeholders should be clear on the boundaries of the role. Appropriate adults are trained lay people who can help to identify when other professionals are required. They cannot, and must not be expected to, replace professionals such as legal, clinical or communication specialists where they are required to achieve the outcomes detailed above.

Appropriate adults do not


Relevant professionals

  • Provide suspects with legal advice (though they can provide information about the law)
  •  Solicitors and other legal representatives
  •  Provide medical advice or treatment
  • Forensic physicians (akak FME)
  • Custody nurses
  • Carry out assessments of a person’s mental health or other needs
  • Liaison and diversion
  • Approved Mental Health Practitioner
  • Provide translation / interpretation services
  • Interpreter
  • Language Line
  • Facilitate communication for people with a high level of need
  • Intermediaries / speech and language therapists
  • Hold responsibility for the welfare and treatment of a person in police custody
  • Police custody sergeant
  • Monitor or inspect custody suites
  • Independent Custody Visitors
  • HM Inspectorates
  • Provide support to a person outside of police detention or voluntary interview
  • Legal representatives
  • Health and social care professionals
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