Supporting vulnerable clients – Appropriate Adult procedures and the Police | Bolt Burdon Kemp Supporting vulnerable clients – Appropriate Adult procedures and the Police | Bolt Burdon Kemp

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Supporting vulnerable clients – Appropriate Adult procedures and the Police

During my time as an undergraduate at Cardiff University I was fortunate enough to train as an ‘Appropriate Adult’ through one of their pro-bono schemes, which helped me understand issues important to protecting vulnerable individuals. In this blog I will set out what this voluntary role entailed and the benefits of this safeguard for both vulnerable individuals and the wider justice system.

The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984

If the police detain in custody or voluntarily interview a person who is between 10 and 17 years old, or they have reason to suspect is a ‘vulnerable person’, they must ensure an ‘Appropriate Adult’ (AA) is present to provide support and be present for a range of police processes, including intimate searches and identification procedures.

Code C of the Act states that a person is ‘vulnerable’ if, because of a mental health condition or mental disorder, they:

  • May have difficulty understanding or communicating effectively about the full implications for them of any procedures and processes connected with their detention;
  • Do not appear to understand the significance of what they are told, of questions they are asked, or of their replies;
  • Appear to be particularly prone to becoming confused, unclear, providing unreliable misleading or incriminating information without knowing or wishing to.

Relevant conditions that may categorise a person as ‘vulnerable’ include (but are not limited to) mental health problems, learning disabilities, autism and/or brain injury.

Role and purpose of an Appropriate Adult (‘AA’)

The role of an AA is to ensure that the vulnerable detainee understands their rights and entitlements, whilst they are in custody, and that the procedures set out in the Code of Practice are followed.  They are not legal advisors; a detainee can have both an AA and a solicitor. A detainee can talk to an AA in private, though must be made aware that AA’s do not have ‘legal privilege’ and their main purpose is to help facilitate understanding between the detainee and the police.

The role is usually undertaken by a relative or carer, however, it can also be anyone experienced with working with vulnerable people (e.g. a social worker), a trained AA or any responsible person who is over 18 and not employed by the police.

The role of an AA in a police interview is to:

  • Ensure the detainee understands the questions being asked and are not asked questions in a way which is confusing, repetitive or oppressive.
  • Ensure the detainee understands the caution given to them at the beginning of the interview.
  • Flag any inappropriate questioning e.g., if the interviewing officer uses sarcasm and an individual’s condition means they take sarcastic speech quite literally.
  • Ensure no leading questions are asked, such as, ‘you did it, didn’t you?’
  • Intervene if they have any doubt as to whether the detainee has understood a question and ask the officer to rephrase the question.
  • Ensure enough rest breaks are taken, especially if the individual seems agitated/ tired/ in need of a rest.
  • Provide support in a time which is overwhelming.
  • Speak to the custody sergeant if they have any concerns.

The main purpose of the AA safeguard is to ensure children and vulnerable people are treated fairly with respect for their rights and entitlements and can participate effectively in procedures relating to their investigation and/ or their detention. Those who have been supported by AA’s have indicated benefits to mental health, wellbeing, personal dignity and freedom from abuse.Service users feel supported emotionally and more protected against potential mockery, intimidation, fear and isolation.

In addition, the AA safeguard is aimed to reduce the risk of miscarriages of justice, as a result of evidence being obtained from vulnerable suspects which, by virtue of their vulnerability, led to unsafe and unjust convictions. This safeguard is also key for the wider justice system, as it means better quality of evidence, reducing the risk of evidence being excluded.

Supporting our clients

Here are a few examples of how my time as an AA has helped me to better understand the needs of vulnerable brain injured clients:

  • A vulnerable detainee was finding it difficult to absorb the information presented to them. I noticed this and helped to breakdown the information into bitesize and digestible chunks. Taking the time to ensure the individual understood the information meant they understood the process and felt better placed to make decisions. This is important in my role as a paralegal, to ensure our clients understand the information we present, and to adapt our approach if they do not.
  • Whilst being interviewed, a vulnerable detainee was clearly showing signs of being tired and needing a break. I picked up on this and asked to pause the interview to allow for a break, so that the individual could effectively partake in the process when they felt better rested. In the same way, it is important to be aware of our clients’ tiredness levels, as many brain injured clients often suffer with fatigue. It is important to us that our clients are feeling as well as they can, when providing information or communicating with us.
  • Generally, vulnerable individuals found dealing with the law overwhelming and scary. It was clear that a presence of a neutral, empathetic and supportive AA made a huge difference in enabling them to express themselves in a way in which they felt comfortable. This is a skill I have carried through to my role as a paralegal in our adult brain injury team, as it is important our clients feel comfortable, heard, understood and supported.

My experience as an AA greatly improved my ability to sensitively communicate with vulnerable individuals and has helped illustrate that each vulnerability/ injury presents itself differently in everyone. It has helped me understand the importance of sensitively and appropriately adapting to each circumstance, to ensure our brain injured clients are able to express themselves in a way in which they feel comfortable, in turn facilitating the effective running of their legal claim.

Bringing a claim for compensation can be daunting and confusing for any individual, especially for brain injured clients. Having a brain injury can make an individual highly vulnerable, due to various factors such as cognitive impairment, inflexibility, dissociation, loneliness or impaired memory.

As a paralegal in the Adult Brain Injury Team here at Bolt Burdon Kemp, I spend a lot of time speaking to and helping our clients. Many of them are vulnerable, due to the nature of their injuries. Understanding our clients’ vulnerabilities is key to meeting their needs and guiding them through the claim, which can be a long and stressful process.

We understand that it is likely to be the first time our clients will have had any experience with both brain injuries and the legal system, whilst feeling at their most vulnerable and exposed. Our team are dedicated to protecting and working with vulnerable individuals, committed to securing the support our clients need and obtaining the maximum compensation possible.

 

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