Approved social workers should not act as ‘appropriate adults’
for police subjects with mental health problems or learning
difficulties, a conference heard last week.
Under current legislation, approved social workers or another
responsible adult is supposed to help to ensure the rights of a
detained person and aid communication between suspect and
But Kay Beaumont, social work team manager at the Maudsley
Hospital in London, said the system was riddled with problems.
‘Rather than attempting to fit social workers into the role, it
should be a specific job for properly trained independent
advocates,’ she argued.
At present it was a lottery whether suspects were helped by a
social worker or a person without training. She argued social
services departments in south London were sometimes called in by
the police in inappropriate situations.
In one instance, the police requested a social worker to help a
man who had spent time in a psychiatric hospital ten years earlier
but had not relapsed since.
Carolyn Taylor, a solicitor who offers a 24-hour emergency
criminal service in north London, said social workers faced a
conflict of interests.
They were obliged by their code of practice to betray client
confidentiality if there were dangers to the community. This code
was incompatible with their role as appropriate adults.
‘The relationship with the subject must be (legally)
privileged,’ she added.
The Law Society has now issued guidelines to solicitors warning
them that an appropriate adult might disclose evidence against
Three voluntary agencies – Mencap, Mind and Revolving Doors –
called the conference in the wake of a Home Office review into
appropriate adults, the results of which are out for consultation
at the moment.
A Mencap report in 1994 showed one in 100 mentally disordered
people saw an appropriate adult in custody.