In English law, an appropriate adult is a parent, guardian or social worker; or if no person matching this is available, any responsible person over 18. The term was introduced as part of the policing reforms in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and applies in England and Wales.
In England and Wales, an appropriate adult must be called by police whenever they detain or interview a child (Under the age of 18) or vulnerable adult. They must be present for a range of police processes, including interviews, intimate searches and identification procedures, as detailed in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) Codes of Practice, primarily Code C.
In relation to children, appropriate adult is defined in primary legislation under section 38(4)(a) of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which defines the role as being "to safeguard the interests of children and young persons detained or questioned by police officers." The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 section 63B(10) states that in relation to a 'juvenile' (Under the age of 18) (On 26 October 2015 amendments made to section 42 changed the age of "arrested juvenile" to "Under 18") an appropriate adult should be:
- (a) his parent or guardian or, if he is in the care of a local authority or voluntary organisation, a person representing that authority or organisation; or
- (b) a social worker of a local authority; or
- (c) if no person falling within paragraph (a) or (b) is available, any responsible person aged 18 or over who is not a police officer or a person employed by the police;
Local authority Youth Offending Teams (YOTs) have a statutory duty to provide an appropriate adult for all children under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 s.38(4)(a). This is carried out whenever parents are unavailable, unwilling or inappropriate to act as appropriate adult. Depending on the local authority, this may be carried out by YOT staff, sessional workers, community volunteers or contracted out to a specialist charity or business.
The role includes:
- (a) To support, advise and assist the detained person, particularly while they are being questioned.
- (b) To observe whether the police are acting properly, fairly and with respect for the rights of the detained person. And to tell them if you think they are not.
- (c) To assist with communication between the detained person and the police.
- (d) To ensure that the detained person understands their rights and that you
- have a role in protecting their rights.
Appropriate adults are also required whenever mentally vulnerable adults are detained in custody. However, there is no statutory provision for vulnerable adults  and formal schemes are not available in all parts of England and Wales.
The role of appropriate adult in Scots law is different from that in England and Wales. Appropriate Adults facilitate communication between the police and adults (people aged 16 or over) who have a mental disorder. This is defined in the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003 as: ‘any mental illness, personality disorder, learning disability however caused or manifested’. In practice this includes people with acquired brain injury, autistic spectrum disorder or dementia.
Many areas operate an 'Appropriate Adult Volunteer' scheme, where trained individuals volunteer their spare time to serve in this role. Many schemes operate on a rostered basis across weekends and sometimes week day evenings to expand the service outside of the hours provided by social workers.
Notable legal changes
On 26 October 2015 the British government used a statutory instrument (No. 1778/2015) to commence changes to section 42 (duties of custody officer after charge: arrested juveniles) of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as under the age of 18, however 17 year olds in police custody in England and Wales fell into a grey area prior to the changes in Section 42.
The British government is on a trajectory towards correcting this misalignment – largely due to the tragic suicides of Eddie Thornber, Joe Lawton and Kesia Leatherbarrow and the campaign that followed them.
In 2013, the Home Secretary ordered the amendment of PACE Code C to extend the requirement for an AA to 17 year olds when detained or questioned by police.
Earlier in the year s.41 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act made revisions to sections 66ZA and 66B of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. This extended to 17 year olds the requirement for an AA to be present for youth cautions and youth conditional cautions.
Section 42 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act amends section 37(15) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE). This is the section of PACE which defines “arrested juvenile”, a term that is used in Part 4 of PACE, the part that relates to detention.
The effect of the change is that 17 year olds are included in the definition of “arrested juvenile”. This means that, as with all other children: -
- Under s.38 (1) 17 year olds may now be detained after charge if the custody officer has reasonable grounds for believing that they ought to be detained in their own interests.
- Under s.38 (6) 17 year olds who are detained post charge must be transferred to local authority accommodation
- Under s.38 (6B) it is lawful for any person acting on behalf of the authority to detain a 17 year old who has been transferred to local authority accommodation under s.38 (6)
- Under s.38 (7) if the police cannot transfer as per the above due to ‘impracticability’ or lack of secure accommodation (where non-secure would not be adequate due to the risk of serious harm to the public), they must present a certificate to the court.
Although PACE Code C has been amended to require the presence of an AA for 17 year olds, this is not yet in written in legislation. PACE 1984 s.63B (Testing for presence of Class A drugs) an AA must be present when police make the request, give a warning and information and take a sample “in the case of a person who has not attained the age of 17”. The term “appropriate adult” is defined only in relation to a person who has “not attained the age of 17”. The PACE Codes still have to be followed even though they are not law.
- Pierpoint, Harriet (2008). "'Quickening the PACE? The use of volunteers as appropriate adults in England and Wales'". Policing and Society. 18 (4): 397–410. doi:10.1080/10439460802094678.
- "Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015". www.legislation.gov.uk. Retrieved 2015-12-22.
- UK Home Office. "Home Office Website - PACE Codes". Retrieved 12 February 2014.
- "The Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 (Commencement No. 3 and Transitional Provisions) Order 2015". www.legislation.gov.uk. Retrieved 2015-12-22.
- "National Appropriate Adult Network (NAAN) Website - Network Map". Retrieved 12 February 2014.
- UK Home Office. "Guidance for Appropriate Adults". Retrieved 12 February 2014 2011. Check date values in:
- UK Home Office. "Home Office Website - PACE Code C". Retrieved 12 February 2014.
- "National Appropriate Adult Network (NAAN) Website - Who's looking out for the adults?". Retrieved 12 February 2014.
- "Joe Lawton and Edward Thornber's parents petition over deaths". BBC News. Retrieved 2015-12-22.
- "17-year-old shot himself after being caught drink-driving". Mail Online. Retrieved 2015-12-22.
- Reporter, Mat Trewern; Manchester, B. B. C. "Kesia Leatherbarrow: Girl's death not 'preventable', review finds". BBC News. Retrieved 2015-12-22.
- "Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 ('PACE') Codes of Practice consultations" (PDF). 2013. p. 29.
- "If the PACE Codes Are Not Law, Why Do They Have to Be Followed? | CLJ". www.criminallawandjustice.co.uk. Retrieved 2015-12-22.