Appropriate adults are organised at a local level. NAAN provides information about the role and can help you find a local scheme. Visit our section on becoming an appropriate adult to find out more.
Appropriate adults support suspects who are detained and/or interviewed by police under PACE. The police custody sergeant is responsible for identifying people who require an AA. These fall into two categories, described below. Once the need has been identified, many police processes can not take place without an appropriate adult.
Anyone who appears to be under 18.
We use the term 'children'. PACE uses the term 'juvenile'. Other areas of law refer to 'children and young people'. However, since 2013 when 17 year olds were finally recognised as juveniles, these have all meant the same thing.
The minimum age of criminal responsbility in England and Wales is 10 years old (one of the lowest in the world).
The definition of vulnerability in PACE was significantly changed in July 2018. We have published a detailed guide to the changes.
Put simply, a person is now vulnerable if a police officer has any reason to suspect the person may:
- have difficulty understanding the full implications or communicating effectively about anything to do with their detention; or
- have difficulty understanding the significance or things they are told, questions, or their own answers; or
- may be prone to confusion, suggestibility, or compliance
- may be prone to providing unintentionally unreliable, misleading or self-incriminating information.
Relevant conditions include (but are not limited to):
- mental illness
- learning disabilities
- autistism spectrum conditions
- brain injury.
The requirement for an AA still applies if:
- there is no formal medical diagnosis or opinion from a heathcare professional
- it is a minor offence
- it is a terrorism offence
- there is a legal advisor present
- there is no organised AA scheme in the area
- the person says they do not want an appropriate adult
The requirement for an AA does not apply if there is "clear evidence to dispel" the police officer's reason to suspect.
Yes. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 Code C states that:
- the police custody officer or custody staff shall determine whether the detainee is a juvenile and/or vulnerable and therefore requires an appropriate adult (paragraphs 3.5); and
- if so they must, as soon as practicable, ensure that the appropriate adult is informed of the grounds for their detention; their whereabouts; and the attendance of the appropriate adult at the police station to see the detainee is secure (paragraph 3.15).
The AA is a procedural safeguard placed on police when dealing with any child or adults if there is a reason to suspect they may be vulnerable (as defined by PACE). Unlike legal advice, this 'backstop' safeguard cannot be waived by either children or vulnerable adults.
The appropriate adult role is filled by many different types of people, including:
- parents or other family members
- friends or carers
- social workers
- charity workers
- specalist appropropriate adults (either paid or voluntary).
Some people are not allowed to be an appropriate adult:
- anyone under the age of 18
- anyone who has received an admission of guilt prior to attending
- anyone who might be a suspect, victim, witness or otherwise involved in the investigation
- solicitors and independent custody visitors at the police station in those capacities
- police officers, employees of the police anyone under contractual arrangements with, or under the control or direction of, the chief of police (unless they are the parent/guardian of the child; or a relative, guardian or other person responsible for the care or custody of the vulnerable adult; who is the suspect in the investigation)
- the principal of a child's educational establishment (unless waiting would cause unreasonable delay and the offence is not against that establishment)
- a person suspected of involvement in the commission, preparation or instigation of terrorism
- a person may not sit as a Magistrate in the same local justice area in which they act as an appropriate adult
No, we do not recruit appropriate adults ourselves. However, as the national membership charity for local AA schemes (and anyone else interested in appropriate adults) we offer information and we can help you find a local scheme.
Visit our becoming an appropriate adult section to find out more.
Yes. appropriate adults are required for voluntary interviews of children and vulnerable adults who are suspected of an offence.
No, it is not the role of the appropriate adult to support victims or witnesses. There are different services for these groups. For more information on support for victims and witnesses visit: -
- Contact your Police and Crime Commissioner (who commissions services locally)
- Victim's Information Service
- Victim Support
- Citizens Advice Witness Service
- Ministry of Justice Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings (sections 2.201 – 2.208)
- Ministry of Justice Code of Practice for Victims of Crime - (paragraph 1.32)
- CPS Victims and Witnesses who have Mental Health Issues and/or Learning Disabilities
- College of Policing Working with victims and witnesses: Vulnerable or intimidated witness
The appropriate adult has no role in court.
A court may decide to allow a vulnerable defendant to have an 'appropriate companion' or support worker. There are no detailed guidelines for these roles and they are not the same as an appropriate adult under PACE.
Defendants with a high level of communications needs may be provided with a communications specialist known as an 'intermediary'. It is up to the judges to decide whether one is needed. The intermediary provides an independent, professional assessment and clear recommendations to the court. They may be provided for part of the trial or all of it. Providers of intermediaries include:
The role of an AA in local authority age asessment interviews is not the same as that in the criminal justice system and NAAN does not provide guidance for the role. Please see the: