A report commissioned by the Home Office says that about a quarter of vulnerable people do not get the support of an ‘appropriate adult’ while in police custody.
The report, called There to Help, was researched and written by the National Appropriate Adult Network. Their research revealed that are ‘significant shortcomings’ in the system which mean that vulnerable people sometimes do not have access to an appropriate adult.
An appropriate adult must be provided when a child or vulnerable adult is in contact with the police. They ensure that the police are communicating effectively with the vulnerable person, that they are being treated fairly and that their welfare is being safeguarded.
The rules were introduced in the 1980s after a series of miscarriages of justice involving vulnerable people, particularly those with mental health problems. Appropriate Adults do not provide legal advice.
When Emma was arrested and wrongly accused of accused of assault, she didn’t understand what was happening. Her solicitors didn’t know BSL and Emma struggled to understand letters written in formal English. SignHealth Advocacy helped Emma, using BSL to explain the legal process and letters from her solicitors.. Her advocate explained how to behave in court and how to ask for an interpreter.
Chris Bath FRSA, chief executive of the National Appropriate Adult Network, said:
“People with learning disabilities, mental ill health, traumatic brain injuries or autistic spectrum disorders are some of the most vulnerable citizens, and state detention is perhaps the most vulnerable situation. We have a moral and a legal duty to ensure appropriate adults are available wherever people live.”
Home Secretary Theresa May welcomed the report saying:
“Appropriate adults provide vital support and help to de-mystify what can be a confusing, sometimes frightening, experience in police custody.
“Evidence suggests there is a lack of appropriate adults to safeguard the welfare and rights of mentally vulnerable adults in police custody. That is why I commissioned this review to determine where the problems lie.
“The status quo is not acceptable and I am concerned that vulnerable adults are not always receiving the support of an appropriate adult. We are currently examining the recommendations and implementation options to ensure that vulnerable people are provided with the support they are entitled to.”
Signhealth Advocacy from the Deaf Health Charity SignHealth offers specialist, confidential advocacy services in British Sign Language, delivered by trained advocacy workers.
Independent Mental Health Advocates work with Deaf people to ensure they have equal access to the criminal justice system and official proceedings. Clients are helped to understand difficult situations and choices. Independent Mental Health Advocates work with individuals detained under the Mental Health Act.
(Photo credit: West Midlands Police)