Merseyside's Police Commissioner has today criticised the government for failing to take sufficient steps to improve the provision for vulnerable people in custody.
Jane Kennedy has repeatedly called for an urgent change to the law to guarantee the provision of Appropriate Adult (AA) support for vulnerable adults who are detained.
Under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 codes of practice the police are required to contact an ‘appropriate adult’ (AA) as soon as practicable, when they suspect that a person they have detained or wish to interview is either under 18 or may have a mental vulnerability. This includes people with mental health conditions, learning disabilities and autism.
While Local Authorities have a statutory responsibility to ensure this service for people aged under 18s, no authority, agency or organisation has ever been given statutory responsibility for ensuring provision service for vulnerable adults.
On Tuesday, the Home Office published its framework to support the development of Appropriate Adult provision. But while this voluntary framework sets out the responsibility lies with local authorities, the document once again fails to make it a statutory requirement.
Commenting on the agreement, Jane said: “While I welcome the national spotlight on this important safeguarding service, the publication of the Government’s voluntary partnership approach simply does not go far enough.
“The agreement rightly highlights that responsibility for providing Appropriate Adult services for vulnerable children and adults in detention rests with the local authorities, but the expectation this will be done through local collaborative approaches will fail.
“Over the last two years, I have worked hard to bring this about in Merseyside, but have failed to the point where I directly commission the service using police budget to pay for it. In doing so, I am conscious that it ought to be a service commissioned independently from the police. However, I prefer to act to provide a service rather leave vulnerable people in detention to struggle. The police want and need detainees to be supported.
“Public sector organisations are already struggling to deliver the services that they do have a statutory responsibility to deliver, let alone stepping up to deliver the ones they are not legally required to provide.
“The situation will only change if the Government takes real action and makes the provision of Appropriate Adults for vulnerable adults a statutory responsibility for local authorities, in the same way it is for young people, and provides the funding to deliver it. I am disappointed that they have refrained from doing so.
“By restating a voluntary approach, the Government is failing in its responsibility to ensure we give our most vulnerable people proper protection while in detention, making sure they have the right help and support that they, and the authorities need.
“I will continue to raise my concerns with ministers and lobby them to resolve this situation by implementing the four asks as sets out by the Association of PCCs. I strongly endorse this approach.
“In the meantime I am not willing to allow already very vulnerable people to slip through the net and be further disadvantaged, which means I have no choice but to continue to provide this crucial service through my own office.”
The voluntary Appropriate Adult PCC-Local Authority Partnership Agreement for England can be read here.