A Home Office commissioned report has highlighted an ever too frequent problem of the shortfall in appropriate adults causing police in some cases to go ahead without one.
Provision for Appropriate Adults
Appropriate adults are needed for detainees at the police station who are under 18 or may be mentally disordered or mentally vulnerable. They are there to support, advise and assist the detainee, ensure the police act fairly and to aid communication between that person and the police.
They are not there to provide the detainee with legal advice, but where a detainee has waived their right to free legal advice, often due to misunderstanding of the whole process, the appropriate adult can ensure the detainee has fully understood their rights and entitlements whilst at the police station and request that a solicitor is called.
According to police data. appropriate adults were used in about 45,000 of the 1.4 million detentions and voluntary interviews of adults each year. However it is estimated 280,000 of those detentions involve a person who was mentally vulnerable.
Children often have the support of a parent or guardian or via the local authority scheme however vulnerable adults are often overlooked.
Home Secretary Theresa May commented:
“The status quo is not acceptable and I am concerned that vulnerable adults are not always receiving the support of an appropriate adult”
First Hand Experience
As a duty solicitor I have seen first hand the hours of delay that can be caused waiting for the police to arrange an appropriate adult which adds to the distress of the detainee. I have often had to make representations to custody officers that the delay is unacceptable and the detainee should be released and re-interviewed at a later date when one can be arranged. In some cases due to the offence under investigation this can not always happen.
I have been forced to intervene and make representations to the custody sergeant when I have arrived at the police station and following a consultation with the detainee it is clear an appropriate adult is required but one has not been arranged. Shockingly I have been met with comments from officers “he looks ok to me”.
Overhaul of Current System
The system as it currently stands is crying out for an overhaul. The report entitled ‘There to Help’ recommends an explicit statutory duty on police officers to secure an appropriate adult for all vulnerable detainees, a new strategic framework for appropriate adult provision and to ensure officers have all received specific training.
If you or someone you know is suffering from a mental illness and are accused of a crime ensure they are aware of their right to a solicitor at the police station as this not only provides them with the legal advice they will require but we can then ensure their vulnerability is not over looked by the police and they are given the support they need.
Written by Stacey Mabrouk. Stacey is a member of our out of hours team and is greatly experienced in dealing with cases at the police station in the primary investigation stage. Stacey also has a particular interest in cases with a mental health element and is particularly skilled in dealing with the sensitive issues that can arise in such cases.