More than 100,000 vulnerable adults were detained or interviewed by the police without an ‘appropriate adult’ every year despite it being a legal requirement, according to new research published today.
The role of appropriate adult was established under the landmark PACE legislation (the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984) to prevent vulnerable suspects becoming miscarriages of justice particularly because of concerns about false confessions. Under PACE code C, the police must secure an appropriate adult – often a family member, not always – for suspects that are under 18 or whom they suspect, may be vulnerable to provide support and protect their welfare. As a result of the legislation, a court can refuse evidence on the grounds that there was not such person present.
A 2013 study found about as many as four out of 10 adults in police custody (39%) have a mental disorder or intellectual disability. A new report published by the National Appropriate Adult Network and drawing on freedom of information requests and research by Dr Roxanna Dehaghani of Cardiff University revealed that in 2017/18 police recorded the need for an appropriate adult in just 6% of around a million police detentions and voluntary interviews of adults. It revealed massive local differences in approach, particularly in voluntary interviews, as forces recorded rates of need appropriate adults between 0% to 24%. You can read the report here.
‘It is in nobody’s interest for innocent people to have their lives ruined, or indeed guilty people to avoid convictions, due to the failure to ensure mentally vulnerable people are given appropriate adult support,’ commented Chris Bath FRSA, chief executive of the National Appropriate Adult Network. ‘Police must comply with their duty to secure an appropriate adult. It is only fair, both to them and to vulnerable people, that we ensure independent AA services exist in all areas.’
In 2014 the then Home Secretary Theresa May expressed concerns that there were ‘not enough appropriate adults to support vulnerable people who are in police custody’ when requested by police. She commissioned the National Appropriate Adult Network to explore the issues and propose solutions.
Dr Dehaghani said that the results figures demonstrated the need to ensure all vulnerable adults were given the correct support. ‘But perhaps the more significant issue is that there still exists no statutory duty on any agency to provide these vital services. Provision across England and Wales remains patchy.’
According to the researchers, based on the highest performing police forces, at least 111,445 detentions and voluntary interviews of vulnerable adults took place without need for an appropriate adult being recorded by police. Even where vulnerability was identified, NHS data from assessments delivered in custody showed more than one third of adults known to have a learning disability did not have an appropriate adult (34%) and almost three-quarters of adults known to have a mental health diagnosis did not have one (73%). People were treated differently according to their condition and so about half of adults known to have dementia (54%) and as few as one in five people known to have anxiety disorder such as post traumatic stress disorder (19%) had an appropriate adult.