Under 18s and vulnerable adults

Under 18’s and vulnerable adults in custody 


    Last reviewed : 28/03/2023

This section deals with when an Appropriate Adult is needed at the police station. 

In essence all vulnerable people and persons under 18 have to have an Appropriate Adult at the police station . The requirement cannot be waived by a detainee. With under 18’s it is usually quickly determined whether a young person meets the criteria for an Appropriate Adult.With adults it maybe less clear whether a person meets the criteria as  issues around mental health, neuro diversity and learning difficulties aren’t always apparent at the outset.

Some of the questions you will be asked when you are booked in at the police station will concern your physical and mental health (including whether you have a history of self-harm). The stated purpose of these questions is to ascertain whether you have any disabilities and/or pre-existing health conditions which may put you at risk while you are in custody as well as rendering any evidence gained from questioning unreliable. It is important to realise that if you tell the officer booking you in that you do have mental health problems and/or a history of self-harm OR answer no comment to those questions, the police are very likely to regularly check up on you when you are placed in a cell. This can be unpleasant and seriously disrupt any attempts at sleep. On the other hand you will need to declare mental health issues if you want to have access to an Appropriate Adult (see below). If you think you are likely to be arrested on a demonstration, it is worth considering how you will deal with this. Our recommendation is to do whatever makes you feel safest and ensures your needs are met.

 Appropriate Adults

Ultimately it is the decision of the Custody Sergeant whether an Appropriate adult is required but where a person is or appears under 18 or vulnerable in some other way an appropriate adult must be called in. Having a mental health or other condition does not automatically mean an appropriate adult will be engaged, the determining factor is whether the individual is considered vulnerable or under 18. In considering whether a person is vulnerable the custody sergeant is required to consider whether a person because of their situation or circumstances are unable to take care of  or protect themselves or others from harm or exploitation. If the officer decides the person is vulnerable then an Appropriate adult must be called. Ultimately the AA is there to assist with communication and safeguard the needs of the detainee.

The Appropriate Adult is is someone who is present whilst rights are being given and ensures the rights of a detainee are understood by the detainee as well as being present at other key points and during interview.

For persons under 18 a parent or Guardian is the first choice for an appropriate adult (AA).  If the young person is in the care of the Local authority then a representative from the local authority will stand as AA. 

Where the person needing an AA is a vulnerable adult the police will usually rely on a relative or guardian or some other person responsible  for the care or custody of the detainee. Failing that the police can use someone who is experienced in dealing with vulnerable people so long as they are independent of the police.. The police can refuse for a nominated person to be an appropriate adult if they believe them to be unsuitable, and they may not agree to someone who has a criminal record or who was involved in the action on the basis they may be a witness or implicated in the offence.  

XR note: If you are under 18 or know you are likely to be treated as vulnerable you might want to think about getting an appropriate adult ready before you go on an action. They don’t need to be with you at the action and better that they don’t know any details but perhaps they could know to expect the call from the police station. We recommend this as there is always the risk of arrest at an action, and so it is about being prepared for every eventuality, even if you haven’t done anything wrong. Police advice, however, is that where an adult is aware of your actions in advance, or involved in the protest, they are unlikely to be accepted as an appropriate adult. 

It is worth remembering that the AA is not bound by the same rules of confidentiality as members of the legal profession. 


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