The lack of availability of appropriate adults 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, has been cited by campaigners as contributing to the overnight detention of children. Police have also been critical of the lack of AA services out of hours.
The majority of AAs for children are parents. For some, attending outside office hours will be easier, while others it may be more difficult – for example due to child care commitments. So what expectations should be placed on organised AA schemes?
From a legal perspective, PACE does not specify times during which police cannot conduct interviews or other investigatory procedures. The statutory duty on Youth Offending Teams to ensure provision of an AA does not specify operational hours or any other limit on the duty. Therefore, it is clear that AA schemes for children should have the ability to respond whenever they are needed.
HM Inspectoprate of Contabulary's expectations for police custody require that, "Independent appropriate adult schemes for children and vulnerable adults are in place, operate to relevant national standards and are used". One of the indicators for this is that AAs are available 24 hours a day.
However, this does not mean that schemes are bound to always provide an AA when the police request one in order to carry out an interview or other procedure.
PACE Code C states that, “in any period of 24 hours a detainee must be allowed a continuous period of at least 8 hours for rest, free from questioning, travel or any interruption in connection with the investigation concerned. This period should normally be at night or other appropriate time which takes account of when the detainee last slept or rested.”
The AA scheme has a duty to ensure this right is met. In so doing, they may reasonably refuse to enable police procedures where they conflict with the right. Police should not be enabled to interview when a child is not alert. However, this is not justification for a fixed policy of not attending after a certain time. The decision must be made on the basis of the individual child’s best interest, after consideration of their particular sleep/wake cycle and level of alertness.
The YOT’s statutory duty is to ensure the provision of AAs to safeguard the interests of children and young persons, not the convenience of police officers. The police are under obligation to minimise the time children spend in detention. The ability of schemes to provide or withhold an AA can be a powerful tool in ensuring children’s cases are expedited.
Current Youth Justice Board guidance captures the nuance effectively, stating, “This duty applies at any time of day or night. You should consider requests for attendance out-of-hours in line with the best interests of the individual child.”
It must also be recognised that, while a small number of AA schemes have informed NAAN that they are operating 24/7 services, many do not currently have the resources to provide such a service. In order to meet the increasing expectations and current legal duties, it is likely that resources will need to be increased above current levels.