Appropriate Adults


Appropriate Adults

headshot adults

By Leila Tai
20 September 2023

An important role

Appropriate adults provide communication support during police investigations to juveniles or vulnerable adults who are victims, witnesses or suspects. They play an important role in ensuring that children and vulnerable people are treated fairly with respect for their rights, welfare and entitlements and that they are able to participate effectively in investigation procedures.1  In doing so, appropriate adults reduce the risk of miscarriages of justice.

Who do appropriate adults support?

Appropriate adult support is available to juveniles (aged 17 years or younger) or vulnerable individuals.

In general, a person will be considered vulnerable if they:2

  • Have difficulty understanding the consequences of what is happening to the at the police station;
  • Don’t seem to understand the importance of what they are told;
  • Don’t seem to understand the importance of questions the police ask them;
  • Don’t seem to understand the importance of their replies to the police questions;
  • Appear to become confused and unclear about what is happening;
  • Provide unreliable, misleading or incriminating information without meaning to;
  • Do what other people tell them to do without wanting to; or
  • Agree with everything someone is saying without questioning it.

A person may be vulnerable due to conditions including mental illness, learning disability, autism or brain injury but they do not need to be formally diagnosed to receive appropriate adult support.

If the custody sergeant believes an individual is vulnerable or aged 17 or under they are required to get an appropriate adult to assist. They must do this, even if the individual says they do not want appropriate adult support.3

Who can act as an appropriate adult?

In the case of a juvenile, an appropriate adult can be:4

(i) the parent, guardian or a person representing that authority (if the juvenile is in care);

(ii) a social worker; or

(iii) Another responsible adult aged 18 or over who is not a police officer or employed by/under the direction of/providing services to the police

In the case of someone who is vulnerable, an appropriate adult can be:5

(i) a relative, guardian or other person responsible for their care;

(ii) someone experienced in dealing with vulnerable persons but who is not associated with the police; or

(iii) another responsible adult aged 18.

Some people are not allowed to be an appropriate adult, these include:6

  • 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;
  • a parent who is estranged from a juvenile (if the juvenile does not want them to act as the appropriate adult);
  • the principal of a juvenile’s educational establishment

The role of an appropriate adult

In general terms, an appropriate adult helps the juvenile or vulnerable person understand what is happening and facilitates effective communication between the individual and the police.

An appropriate adult is not simply an observer, they must assist the individual to understand their rights, any questions they are asked and any procedures they are asked to participate in. An appropriate adult also has a responsibility to raise any concerns about the individual’s communication needs or welfare with the police.

At the police station, the police must inform the juvenile or vulnerable person of the duties of an appropriate adult and that they may consult an appropriate adult at any time.7 The appropriate adult must be present when the individual is informed of their rights and entitlements and when they are cautioned. If these things have occurred before the appropriate adult attends, they must be repeated in the presence of the appropriate adult.8 The appropriate adult has the right to be told why the individual is being detained and to see a copy of the custody record, Notice of Rights and Entitlements and PACE Codes of Practice, which sets out the powers, responsibilities and procedures of the police.

Screenshot 2023-09-26 at 20.11.34

Leila Tai

Leila Tai joined Chambers in October 2022 after completion of 12 months pupillage. She is instructed to prosecute and defend in a range of criminal matters across the Magistrates, Youth and Crown Courts, including drug supply, violent and sexual offences, weapons offences, Public Order Act offences and fraud.

Leila is experienced in lengthy and complex trials having acted as junior defence counsel in multi-million pound drug conspiracy trials involving contested cell site evidence and telephone material. She has also assisted in the prosecution of serious offences, including murder.

Leila undertakes regulatory work and has acted in Nursing and Midwifery Council, General Dental Council and Social Work England cases and has completed work for the MET.

Before being called to the Bar, Leila completed her Doctorate and Masters at the University of Oxford. Her doctoral research examined the sentencing models and the exercise of judicial discretion in Australia and England and Wales. Whilst completing her doctorate, Leila worked at the University of Oxford as a Stipendiary Lecturer in Criminal Law and Tort.

Leila is also admitted to practise in Australia and previously worked as a judicial associate at the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory.

During an interview (including voluntary interview when the individual is not under arrest), the appropriate adult is responsible for facilitating communication, advising the person being interviewed and observing whether the interview is being conducted properly and fairly.9 The appropriate adult must ensure that the person being interviewed understands the questions the police ask. They must also ensure that the police understand the replies and that the questions being asked are not confusing, repetitive or threatening. The appropriate adult may intervene at any time during an interview if they feel it is necessary to help the individual communicate effectively, for example if the questioning is too fast, confusing, repetitive or oppressive. The appropriate adult may ask the police to rephrase the question or slow down. They may also ask to pause the interview to allow the individual to rest or seek legal advice, or to stop the interview if they feel it is not being carried out properly.. An appropriate adult may not, however, obstruct proper questioning, for example by answering on the individual’s behalf or telling them what answer to give.10

Where the person being interviewed has significant speech, language or communication needs they may require additional support beyond that of an appropriate adult. In those cases, a qualified professional, such as an intermediary, can be appointed to conduct a formal assessment and provide further communication support.

Appropriate adults assist not just at interview but also when a juvenile or vulnerable person is asked to give or sign a written statement under caution,11 when they are photographed or asked to give fingerprints or a DNA sample and when they are subject to any intimate or strip search.12 As with the interview, it is the appropriate adult’s responsibility to facilitate communication in these situations but also to observe the police and ensure they are respecting the individual’s rights. Any concerns about the police’s treatment of the juvenile or vulnerable person should be reported to a more senior officer and recorded on the interview or custody record.

An appropriate adult should also ensure that the individual understands their rights. This may mean asking whether they understand or requesting more information from the police. If necessary, an appropriate adult may intervene to safeguard those rights, for example by requesting that an interview or procedure be paused or that a solicitor attend.

Appropriate adults cannot give legal advice but an individual can have the assistance of both an appropriate adult and a solicitor, if they wish to. If the individual indicates that they do not want legal advice, the appropriate adult can ask for a solicitor to attend if this would be in the best interests of the person. The person cannot be forced to see the solicitor, however, if they do not wish to do so.13 The appropriate adult is not entitled to be present during consultations with the solicitor or to know what advice has been given.14 They can, however, attend to facilitate communication during those consultations if the individual requests that support. It is important to note though that an appropriate adult is not subject to the same legal privilege or confidentiality as a solicitor.15

If the police decide to charge the juvenile or vulnerable person, this must be done in the presence of an appropriate adult.16


Appropriate adults play an important role in ensuring that juveniles and vulnerable adults are treated fairly and that their rights and wellbeing are protected. Enabling them to participate effectively in the criminal justice system means more dignity and understanding on an individual level and increased trust, legitimacy and public confidence in the system. Crucially, the involvement of appropriate adults results in a more just investigation process and more just outcomes.


For further information about the role of appropriate adults and training for appropriate adults see:

The National Appropriate Adult Network:

Rethink Mental Illness:

Free and independent legal advice

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  1. Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) [1.7A] and Annex E [2A].
  2. PACE [1.13(d)].
  3. PACE [3.15].
  4. PACE [1.7].
  5. PACE [1.7].
  6. PACE [1B].
  7. PACE [3.15].
  8. PACE [3.17].
  1. PACE [11.17].
  2. PACE [11F].
  3. PACE Annex A [8].
  4. PACE Annex A [5], Annex E [12].
  5. PACE [6.5].
  6. PACE [1E].
  7. PACE [1E].
  8. PACE Annex E [11].