Appropriate Action

Lis Pritchard is a qualified social worker who has worked in the
voluntary sector for more than 25 years. She is chief executive of
the National Appropriate Adult Network. Before joining the
organisation, she was chief executive of the National Association
of Councils for Voluntary Service and then chief executive of
Homeless Link, the national umbrella organisation for homelessness

The importance of the role of “appropriate adults” in the
criminal justice system is highlighted in the revised Police and
Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Pace) codes of practice (1).  There are
no fewer than 107 references to appropriate adults in code C,
dealing with detention, treatment and questioning by police

Pace stated that all juveniles and vulnerable adults must have an
appropriate adult with them when being questioned by the police in
custody. Typically, for juveniles that role was filled by parents
or other relatives; and for adults with learning difficulties or
mental health problems by relatives or social workers. However, in
many cases, relatives or professionals were not easily available or
may not have fully understood their responsibilities in the role.
There have also been many instances of individuals being brought in
by the police on an ad hoc basis to fulfil the role, which is
unsatisfactory for detainee and police.

Although Pace introduced the right of an individual to have an
appropriate adult present, it gave no single authority the
responsibility for ensuring that this service was provided. In some
areas volunteer schemes were developed, while in others the police
relied on social services’ emergency duty teams. The Crime and
Disorder Act 1998 required local authorities in partnership with
other relevant statutory authorities such as the police and
probation service to establish youth offending teams (Yots). The
act gave the Yots explicit responsibility for “the provision of
persons to act as appropriate adults to safeguard the interests of
children and young persons detained or questioned by police

Initially, this resulted in Yot workers acting as appropriate
adults for juveniles alongside their other responsibilities.
However, some Yot managers soon realised the many benefits of
having trained volunteers providing a dedicated service. So they
began to either recruit or manage their own teams of volunteers or,
increasingly, contract out that service to a voluntary sector

The situation for vulnerable adults is more difficult as there is
still no one authority with responsibility for ensuring that a
service is provided. Like Yots, some local authorities manage
in-house volunteer schemes, while others contract out the service
to the voluntary sector, or even in a few cases to private
companies. Others provide no specific service and rely on the
police contacting the emergency duty team (or using other informal

While such an arrangement may avoid the need for a specific
identified budget, there are real, but hidden, financial costs as
well as real human costs. Vulnerable people can spend unnecessary
hours in police custody, while social workers can also spend hours
at police stations being an appropriate adult, which means that
they are unavailable for other emergencies.

An informal network of people running volunteer appropriate adult
services developed to share good practice and discuss ideas and
concerns. Last year it became an independent charity called the
National Appropriate Adult Network, helped by funding from the Home
Office. Its role is to help its members provide high-quality
services through the development of national standards, and to
provide training, networking opportunities and support.

It is committed to increasing the coverage of appropriate adult
services in England and Wales and will also work with the
Department of Health and Youth Justice Board to influence policy
and legislation affecting young people and vulnerable adults in
custody. For example, it is lobbying to have responsibility for
providing or funding appropriate adult services for vulnerable
adults to be placed in one statutory authority.

In response to feedback from members, the network recently raised
concerns about the exclusion, under Pace, of 17 year olds from
appropriate adult services for juveniles. A Home Office
consultation on this is under way.

It is crucial for appropriate adults to be clear about the extent
and the limitations of the role. As stated in the Pace codes, “they
are not expected to act simply as an observer”. They must ensure
that the person being questioned understands their rights and that
the police treat them according to the rules. The appropriate adult
has the right to inspect the custody record, but cannot give legal
advice and should not discuss the details of any alleged offence. A
key responsibility is to ensure that the suspect exercises his or
her right to speak to a solicitor. As the codes make clear the
appropriate adult has the right to request legal advice even if a
juvenile has not.

The development of volunteer appropriate adult schemes has had
clear benefits. Janet Dean, chair of the appropriate adult network
and co-ordinator of the appropriate adult scheme for Norfolk
Council, says: “Before we had a volunteer scheme, social workers
had to juggle this responsibility with all their other emergency
call-outs. This often resulted in delays of five hours or more,
which was bad for the client, bad for the police and a poor use of
scarce resources.”

Inspector Phil Boswell, of Hampshire police, says: “The provision
of trained and available appropriate adults has proved invaluable
to us. It has expedited investigations and the release of the
detained person. The trained appropriate adult is a specialist and
can ensure that the rights and entitlements of the detainee are

These schemes have a further benefit. They help people become
involved in a valuable volunteering role in their local community.
It is important, therefore, that they are made as accessible as
possible to everyone, have a fair age and gender balance and
reflect ethnic diversity. 

Abstract: This article looks at the development
of the role of appropriate adults in police stations and the impact
of legislation on this role. It discusses the different ways that
this service is provided, and in particular the growing use of
volunteer schemes. It outlines the role of the National Appropriate
Adult Network in the development of national standards for these
services, and some of the issues faced by those working in this

References:   (1)  Police and Criminal Evidence
Act 1984 (PACE) codes of practice A-F, August 2004 edition

Further Information: Please contact: Mary
Bridgman at marybridgman@appropriate to whom any e-mail response should be copied.  Also go to
the website,


More from Community Care

Comments are closed.