The Appropriate Adult

Did you see the dramatisation of the Fred West story last year, entitled “The Appropriate Adult”?  It was genuinely amazing, extremely well written and acted and rightfully won three BAFTA awards for Emily Watson (Janet Leach, the appropriate adult) and for Dominic West (Fred West) and Monica Dolan (Rose West).  Do look it up if you didn’t see it (available on iTunes, apparently).

The story of Janet Leach was fascinating – contacted by Gloucestershire Police to act as appropriate adult for Fred West after his arrest and then thrown straight in to the horror of his crimes and the development of something of a non-romantic relationship between them.  Janet Leach successfully sued the Chief Constable of Gloucestershire for the impact upon her life and her mental health of being exposed to the intricacies of the investigation without support or proper preparation and it has affected how the role is understood.


This post is a general one, arising from a fascinating debate I had in custody when I was the duty inspector for my area and intended to highlight two changes to Code C of the Codes of Practice.  A man with a history of schizophrenia who was not presenting as acutely unwell and who did not require assessment for formal admission under the mental health act, had been arrested for causing damage at his bail hostel and detained for interview.

He required an appropriate adult and a professional from local services attended to help.  As soon as the man walked into custody, he asked about whether a solicitor had been requested by the detainee – it hadn’t.  He been offered a solicitor, but had declined the opportunity.  The appropriate adult immediately stated that it is law that all vulnerable adult detainees have an appropriate adult and it is fair to say his manner irritated the custody officer somewhat, not least because it simply is not the law of England that all vulnerable adult detainees have a solicitor – another example of the “policy as law fallacy“.

The debate it generated was around whether an appropriate adult has a legal right to insist upon a solicitor, where the adult concerned does not wish to have one.  Obviously, the PACE Codes of Practice were pulled for frantic page flicking and there were a difference of views amongst the officers present.  As it happens, Code C of the Codes of Practice has just been updated in 2012 and it contains a crucial update for this discussion:  in the 2008 Code, para 6.5A outlined the right of appropriate adults to insist upon a solicitor, albeit they could not force the person they were supporting to see the solicitor if they were adamant that they did not wish to do so.  Crucially >> this 2008 version related to juveniles only, not to vulnerable adults.

As such, it could be viewed that where the appropriate adult insisted when the detainee is a vulnerable adult, they had no right to do so in opposition to the detainees own views.  As of July 10th 2012, para 6.5A has been amended and now reads:

“In the case of a person who is a juvenile or is mentally disordered or otherwise mentally vulnerable, an appropriate adult should consider whether legal advice from a solicitor is required. If the person indicates that they do not want legal advice, the appropriate adult has the right to ask for a solicitor to attend if this would be in the best interests of the person. However, the person cannot be forced to see the solicitor if they are adamant that they do not wish to do so.”

(The words in bold are my emphasis to highlight those added by the 2012 Code amendments.)

On the face of it, we can understand why the law may have been amended to allow appropriate adults to insist.  The category of vulnerable in police stations will cover many people with varying degrees of mental disorder including detainees who lack any insight into the surroundings, the legal process in which they have become involved.  Also, it encompasses individuals who a very capable of understanding custody processes to a degree that the need for an appropriate adult at all is often questioned.  However, the law is clear: if someone is, or appears to be, mentally disorder (within the meaning of the Mental Health Act) then an appropriate adult will be called.


One other amendment in the 2012 update which affects policing and mental health issues, is para 3.16 regarding the role of appropriate adults during s136 or MHA assessments.  This now states that the appropriate adult has no role in these assessments and is not required.  This brings to an end an anomaly:

As the ‘appropriate adult’ role is something unique to police stations, it is something that is not required where the police have detained someone under the Mental Health Act and removed them to an NHS Place of Safety.  However, the need for an appropriate adult has always been preserved in the PACE Codes where the place of safety used is a police station.  Some have questioned why, given that the AMHP and the DRs who undertake the assessment are independent professionals whose very raison d’être is to ensure the welfare and wellbeing of those they are assessing.  Because of this, it is fair to say, that some custody sergeants have not always ensured that an appropriate adult is called during the booking in, in order to come to the station and support the detainee, including by helping them understand or exercise legal rights in the station.

It is now clear: we still need appropriate adults for booking in procedures when the cells are used as a Place of Safety; we do not require them for s136 or MHA assessments in police custody.

The Mental Health Cop blog

Badgewon the ConnectedCOPS ‘Top Cop’ Award for leveraging social media in policing.
won the Digital Media Award from the UK’s leading mental health charity, Mind
– won a World of Mentalists #TWIMAward for the best in mental health blogs

ccawards2013 was highlighted by the Independent Commission on Policing & Mental Health
– was referenced in the UK Parliamentary debate on Policing & Mental Health
was commended by the Home Affairs Select Committee of the UK Parliament.


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