The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has had a huge impact on everyone – and this certainly includes children and vulnerable adult suspects, and the work of appropriate adults.
1. Demand for AAs
Demand for AA services in most areas reduced significantly in the early stage of the pandemic, especially for children. This reflects national police guidance around the necessity of arrests and detention and a general downturn in crime. However, some members report that in their areas did not seen meaningful reductions. As the pandemic continued, custody only saw a small overall drop in numbers, with volumes quickly returning to normal.
2. Availability of AAs
Many schemes suffered dramatic reductions in the availability of their AAs. Volunteers make up a huge percentage of the AA workforce. Many of these people are older and a more likely to have underlying health conditions. As a result, many have had to self-isolate or shield. In response, some YOTs (who are under a statutory duty to ensure provision for children) have turned to their staff to maintain a service. Provision for adults, as always, more difficult due to the lack of statutory provision. However, AA schemes remained operational throughout the pandemic. This is due to the dedication of coordinators, staff and the many volunteers that continue to attend despite the risks to them and their families.
3. Physical attendance by AAs
AA schemes across the country continued to attend custody to support children and vulnerable adults. This was ultimately a local decision for every area. But NAAN's early guidance was that appropriate adults should continue to attend custody, subject to three requirements:
- Detentions/procedures are necessary (cannot be delayed or avoided)
- Appropriate PPE is provided to AAs by police whenever it is needed
- The custody environment is being run in a safe manner
If any of the three requirements are not met, the AA should decline to attend or remove themselves from custody. Our rationale for this position is as follows:
- Our analysis of the PACE Codes makes it clear that core detention and interview related procedures cannot take place without an AA present and remain compliant with PACE
- Given the nature of the children and vulnerable adults being supported, and the requirements of the AA role, physical presence is critical to achieving the outcomes of the role
- Between March 2020 and May 2021, when legal advice and interview support was commonly being provided remotely, the physical presence of the AA is even more important in safeguarding rights and interests.
- The police have a legal duty to take reasonable measures to ensure, so far is as reasonably practicable, that custody suites are safe and without risks to the health of AAs.
- The three requirements reflect national guidance to police forces by the NPCC
- AA schemes have a legal duty to adopt policies which protect their AAs where police have not taken reasonable measures
While there were some early issues, it appears that in most areas the three requirements are now typically being met. We have continued to monitor the situation and provide local support.
4. Virtual remand hearings
The use of virtual remand hearings (where people remain at the police station and are dealt with via video link, rather than attending court) is expanding.
The process was used with children and vulnerable adults. This raised questions about risks to fairness and effective participation.
AAs do not have a role in virtual courts. At this point the person has ceased to be a suspect held under PACE and has become a defendant. However, a number of NAAN members reported being asked by police to provide support to children and vulnerable adults.
This role is outside that of an AA and has not been defined. If attending physical court, a child would have the support of a YOT court support officer, as well as access to other services. The question of support for vulnerable adults remains open.
NAAN raised the issue with the Ministry of Justice.
5. Changes in provision of legal advice
In response to Covid-19, a joint interim interview protocol was agreed by the CPS, NPCC, Law Society, CLSA, and LCCSA in March 2020. This advocated the delivery of remote legal advice and interview support by legal representatives as temporary measure in extremis to cope with an unprecedented public health crisis. This led us to respond to three issues:
- The joint protocol did not mention children, vulnerable adults or AAs. Therefore, it did not take account of the special circumstances of these individuals, negative impacts on fairness and appropriate safeguards.
- In June, the Home Office launched an expedited public consultation on amending the PACE Codes to allow remote legal representation for a period of one year.
- It later became clear that the protocol had been poorly implemented and that remote legal advice presented a serious risk for children and vulnerable people, as well as to the integrity of the justice system.
Our acitivities on this issue included:
- In March 2020, we raised with signatories to the joint protocol, that it did not mention children, vulnerable adults or AAs.
- In July 2020, we submitted a detailed submission to the Home Office raising concerns about the potential impact of remote legal advice on suspects for whom an AA is required under PACE. NAAN has continued to make strong representations in policy discussions with the Home Office and partners following the consultation.
- In February 2021, we co-published Not remotely fair? Access to a lawyer in the police station during the Covid-19 pandemic. The report highlighted the negative impact of remote legal representation on children and vulnerable adults. We followed the report with meetings with key decision-makers and officials.
Our outcomes on this issue included:
- In April 2020, a revised version of the protocol was published, to which NAAN contributed. This included safeguards for children and adult vulnerable suspects, such as the requirement for police to secure the consent of the person's appropriate adult before remote legal representation in interview may take place.
- Following the consultation, the Home Office decided not to change the PACE Codes to support remote legal advice even temporarily.
- Following the publication of our joint report, the signatories agreed to end remote legal advice for children and vulnerable people from stage 3 of the roadmap out of lockdown (17th May 2021).
Click here for the latest information on the use of remote legal advice with children and vulnerable people.
In March 2020, we immediately set aside our work plans to focus on mitigating the impact of the pandemic on children and vulnerable adult suspects.
This included three interlinked approaches:
While we were unable to run our normal professional development days, we have continuined to engage with our members via:
- Online national members' meetings
- Online surveys
- Member advice service by phone and email.
We developed Covid-19 information for family members, police, local AA scheme leaders, and trained appropriate adults. For example, our detailed coronavirus section in our guidance for AA scheme coordinators includes information on:
- Working with stakeholders
- Managing demand
- Managing availability of AAs
- Health and safety
- Physical presence vs remote support
We have also been providing regular e-updates direct to our member schemes.
Coronavirus has shown us all how interlinked we are. It is now clear how critical each part of the justice system is to each other and the whole.
Since the pandemic began, we have been extremely glad of the network of contacts we’ve built up over the last few years. In fact, this network has developed even further. This has made NAAN well placed to ensure that AA work, and the children and vulnerable adults they support, are included in national responses.
Our representation work has included:
- Weekly engagement with organisations critical to police custody, via a Home Office chaired operational partners group
- Providing advice to the Crown Prosecution Service on amendments to the joint interview protocol, ensuring the needs for children and vulnerable adults to have an AA physically present are recognised
- Direct engagement with other organisations including various police forces, Youth Justice Board, Association of YOT Managers, Youth Justice Legal Centre and the Standing Committee on Youth Justice.