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 of the AA safeguard 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.
The role of the appropriate adult is to safeguard the interests, rights, entitlements and welfare of children and vulnerable people who are suspected of a criminal offence, by ensuring that they are treated in a fair and just manner and are able to participate effectively. Where the suspect is a child or vulnerable person, PACE requires the presence of an AA for many procedures.
Outcomes for children and vulnerable people
The main outcomes for children and vulnerable people are that they are:
- treated fairly with respect for their rights and entitlements
- able to participate effectively in procedures related to the investigation and/or their detention
In addtition to these 'planned' outcomes, research with people who have been supported by appropiate adults has indicated common themes related to the promotion of wellbeing. These include:
- mental health;
- emotional wellbeing;
- personal dignity;
- 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)
Outcomes for police
From a police perspectice, the AA safeguard means that they gather a better quality of evidence. This reduces both the risk of evidence being excluded at trial and the risk of miscarriages of justice.
Many police processes can not take place without an appropriate adult. The appropriate adult is expected to be an active participant.
- 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;
- 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;
- 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;
- help them to understand their rights and ensure that those rights are protected and respected."
Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, Code C, paragraph 1.7A (as amended July 2018)”.
Advise, support and assist the vulnerable suspect
In relation to information and procedures, AAs have a role in helping children and vulnerable people to:
- understand their rights;
- use their rights;
- participate effectively.
- 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.
AAs may not:
- Give legal advice. This is the role of the solicitor or police station legal representative. However, the AA can require a solicitor to attend.
Observe and inform if rights are breached
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.
Assist the vulnerable suspect with communication
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.
Protect the rights of the vulnerable suspect
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.