Merseyside’s Police Commissioner has again called for an urgent change to the law following a new report which raises alarm over the provision of specialist care for vulnerable adults in custody.
The report, There to Help 2, released by charity the National Appropriate Adult Network (NAAN) has found that more than 100,000 police detentions and voluntary interviews of vulnerable adult suspects who have a mental illness, learning disability, brain injury or are autistic individuals, are carried out each year across England and Wales without the support of an ‘appropriate adult’ to provide guidance and support – despite it being a legal requirement.
Since May 2016, Jane Kennedy has acted in to ensure this does not happen in Merseyside. She has stepped in to fund a dedicated Appropriate Adult (AA) service which ensures police always have access to an appropriate person to support any adult in detention who they believe may have a mental disorder or vulnerability, despite there being no requirement for her to do so.
While Local Authorities do have a statutory responsibility to provide this service for detainees under 18, no authority, agency or organisation has a statutory responsibility for providing this service for adults. Instead, the Home Office expects an AA service to be provided by partners through collaborative voluntary arrangements. As a result, many areas of the country have no organised AA scheme and police officers can be forced to spend hours searching for someone to fill the role, leaving already vulnerable people in further need.
The PCC has previously joined forces with the NAAN to highlight this issue and following the release of today’s update report, which follows on from research in 2015, she is renewing her calls for an urgent change in the law.
Jane said: “This updated report shows that more than four years after this issue was forcefully raised by NAAN, little progress has been made. Whilst I am happy that a vulnerable detainee in Merseyside is given support by an AA, I am disturbed that the same care and attention is not provided elsewhere
“It is staggering that at least 111,445 detentions and voluntary interviews of vulnerable adults took place without an appropriate adult being present. It brings home the serious impact of the Government’s failure to act and the harm this causes to some of the most vulnerable people in our community.
“Since May 2016, the service I have commissioned to provide this service in Merseyside has responded to more than 2,300 callouts, many relating to people with complex mental health needs. That equates to more than 5% of all adult detainees. Without this service being in place, those calls may have gone unanswered. This would have a very detrimental effect upon the detainee, while also hindering the criminal justice process and having a negative impact upon victims of crime. People who have learning disabilities, are experiencing mental health problems or are particularly vulnerable should not be detained longer than absolutely necessary.
“This is an unacceptable situation. I stepped in to fund this service two years ago, but there is still no sign of it being resolved nationally. I would urge ministers to study this report long and hard and I repeat the calls I have previously made to Policing Minister Nick Hurd to introduce this as a statutory duty, as it is for under 18s, as a matter of urgency.
“This situation will only ever change if an appropriate agency or organisation is given statutory responsibility for providing an AA service and appropriate funding to deliver it. A voluntary framework simply isn’t good enough. The Government cannot wash its hands of this situation any longer. This existing ambiguity is leaving already very vulnerable people further disadvantaged in our justice system.”
Chris Bath, NAAN chief executive and author of the report, said: “It is in nobody’s interest for innocent people to have their lives ruined, or indeed guilty people to avoid convictions, due to the failure to ensure mentally vulnerable people are given appropriate adult support.
“Police must comply with their duty to secure an appropriate adult. It is only fair, both to them and to vulnerable people, that we ensure independent AA services exist in all areas.”
Under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which regulates the actions of the police service, the police are required to secure an ‘appropriate adult’ (AA) as soon as practicable for any adult in detention who they believe may have a mental disorder or vulnerability.
In May 2016, Jane took the decision to step in, as a short term measure, to fund an AA service in Merseyside for a six-month pilot period. That contract, delivered by The Appropriate Adult Service (or TAAS), has been repeatedly extended and is now due to run until March 2022.
If a vulnerable person is detained, the first action of the police is to try and find a suitable family member, carer or guardian to act as an AA. However, this is not always possible. In those situations, the AA scheme provides a lifeline.
Appropriate Adults are specially trained individuals who can assist vulnerable detainees to understand the custody process. They provide independent and impartial support and act as advocates, ensuring that detainees understand their rights, are treated fairly and assist with communication between the person and officials. They must be completely independent of the police.
Anyone who is interested in dedicating some of their free time to helping some of the most vulnerable people in the community, can find out how to apply at http://www.theappropriateadultservice.org.uk/vacancies.php
Read the full report can be found HERE.