Appropriate adult at the police station

An appropriate adult is someone who will support you if you are arrested or questioned by the police. This factsheet looks at what an appropriate adult is there to do and who can get their support.

About appropriate adults

You will be able to get an appropriate adult (AA) if you are arrested. And you appear to be ‘mentally vulnerable’.

You do not need a diagnosed mental illness to be mentally vulnerable. The police may think you are vulnerable if they believe that you will not understand what they say to you because of your mental capacity

If you are arrested, the police will take you to the police station. The custody sergeant or custody officer will book you into a police cell. They will ask you questions about how you feel and about your mental health, religious needs or any dietary needs.

The custody sergeant is responsible for your care and welfare while you are at the police station. The custody sergeant should get an AA for you if they think you are mentally vulnerable. The police who arrested you can tell the custody sergeant if they think you need an AA.

An AA will only support you in a police station. Or if you are questioned by the police. 

Ask the custody sergeant or a police officer to get you an AA if you haven’t been given one and you are vulnerable.

You must have an AA with you if you are mentally vulnerable and you are:

  • interviewed to find out how you may be linked to a crime,
  • asked to give a written statement under caution or record of interview,
  • asked to sign a written statement under caution or record of interview,
  • asked to give your fingerprints, or
  • asked to give a DNA sample.

But an urgent interview can take place without your AA with you if there is a good reason not to delay. A good reason could include:

  • harm to evidence that is linked to a crime, or
  • physical harm to other people.

What does an appropriate adult do?

Your appropriate adult (AA) is there to make sure you understand what is happening. And why it is happening. They can:

  • support you when the police ask you questions,
  • help you talk to the police,
  • make sure that you understand your rights,
  • make sure the police behave properly and respect your rights, and
  • help you to get a solicitor.

Your AA can’t give you legal advice. You can have both an AA and a solicitor.

You can talk to your AA in private, at any time. But be aware that your AA doesn’t have ‘legal privilege.’ 

Who can be my appropriate adult? 

Your appropriate adult (AA) can be:

  • your relative or carer,
  • a care coordinator or community psychiatric nurse,
  • a social worker,
  • a trained appropriate adult, or
  • someone who is over 18 who is not employed by the police.

Your AA will be independent from the police. This means that they don’t work for the police.

A trained AA can be the best person to support you. They will understand the criminal justice system. And will make sure you understand what the police tell you. But you might prefer your appropriate adult to be your carer or relative. They may not understand the system as well as someone who is trained. But you may feel more comfortable with them.

Your relative can’t be forced to be your AA if they don’t want to be. But there are guides online that they can use to understand their role as your AA. The guides are written by the charity, national appropriate adult network. 

It is unlikely that you will be allowed to have a professional AA and a
relative or friend to support you at the same time. But you can still ask.


What happens? 

This section covers:

  • What does being cautioned mean?
  • What are my rights?
  • What are PACE code or practice?
  • What are my entitlements?
  • What is my custody record
  • What happens if I am kept in police custody?
  • Can my appropriate adult speak up for me?
  • What happens in the interview?
  • What happens at the end of the interview?

What does being cautioned mean?

The police must caution you when your appropriate adult (AA) is with you.
The police will have to repeat your caution if they tell you when your AA is
not with you.

The custody sergeant will read this caution to you:

“You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do
not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court.
Anything you do say may be given in evidence.”

The caution means:

  • You don’t have to answer questions. But if you choose to, your
    answers may be used as evidence in court.
  • The court may think it is strange if you say something in court to
    help your case, but you don’t say it in the interview. The court might
    wonder why you didn’t tell the police.

The police should check that you understand what the caution means. You
can ask your AA to explain it to you.

What are my rights?

The custody sergeant should give you information about your rights in
writing. You have the right to:

  • have free independent legal advice
  • have someone informed of your arrest
  • read the PACE Codes of Practice
  • free medical help
  • remain silent
  • be told what you are suspected of doing
  • see any records about why you have been arrested
  • free translation or interpretation
  • be told how long you might be held
  • contact your consulate or embassy

What are the PACE Codes of Practice?

The police must follow the PACE Codes of Practice which set out their
powers, responsibilities and procedures in detail. They say how the police should behave towards you.

What are my entitlements?

You are entitled to:

  • a reasonable standard of physical comfort,
  • enough food and drink,
  • use a toilet and washing facilities,
  • clothing,
  • medical attention, and
  • exercise.

What is my custody record?

Your custody record holds information about the following.

  • Your personal details.
  • What happened before you were arrested.
  • Why you were arrested.
  • Your caution.
  • Anything that you said when you were arrested.
  • Why you were detained.
  • Any comments that you make about your detention.
  • Anything else which happened when you were in the police station.

Your AA is allowed to see your custody record. The information should
be given to them as quickly as possible. They can make sure the
information in your custody record is correct. They can check the

  • If the police have told anyone you have been arrested.
  • If the review officer has reviewed your detention.
  • If the police have called a health professional.
  • When you last had food or drink.
  • If the police have dealt with your case quickly.

What happens if I am kept in police custody?

You will be kept in police custody if you are not allowed to leave the police
station. This is also known as ‘being detained by the police.’

A ‘review officer’ will decide if you need to stay at the police station within
6 hours of the start of your detention. They will review you again every 9
hours, after the first 6 hours, if they decide that you need to stay at the
police station.

You, your AA or solicitor can talk to the review officer about your
detention. Your AA can be with you when you are reviewed.

Can my appropriate adult speak up for me?

Your AA should speak to the custody sergeant if feel that the police are
treating you badly.

What happens in the interview?

One of the main reasons the police keep you at a police station is to ask
you questions. Before you are asked questions the police should caution
you again. You will usually be asked questions as part of your police

You must have an AA with you if you are mentally vulnerable and you are interviewed. But an interview can take place without your AA with you if there is a good reason not to delay the interview. 

During your interview your AA should make sure that the following

  • You understand the questions the police ask you.
  • The questions that the police ask you are not confusing, repetitive
    or threatening.
  • The police understand your reply.

Your AA should raise any concerns that they have about the interview as
soon as they can. Your AA can interrupt your interview at any time. Your
AA may ask the police to rephrase questions for you. Or tell the police if
they are speaking too quickly for you to understand.

Your AA can ask the police to stop the interview if:

  • you are confused,
  • very upset, or
  • you need a break.

Your AA can ask the police to stop the interview if they feel that the police
are not carrying out the interview properly.19 You and your AA can ask to
speak to a solicitor at any time.

What happens at the end of the interview?

At the end of the interview your AA should say anything that they would
like to add. For example your AA may make a comment about the way the
police interviewed you if they don’t think that the police followed

The custody sergeant will talk to the officer involved in your case before
deciding to:

  • release you from custody without charge,
  • release you from custody with the understanding that you will have to
    go back to the police station for another interview on another day,
  • give you a caution or conditional caution, or
  • charge you.

If they charge you they will:

  • keep you in police custody until you go to court, or
  • let you leave on ‘bail’ until you go to court.

Bail means that you are allowed to go home until your court date. You may
have to agree to bail conditions such as not being allowed to contact
certain people.

Your AA should be there when the police read the charge to you. And
when they tell you what is going to happen to you.

The police may ask for your photograph, finger prints, a DNA sample and
a hair sample. You usually have to agree to this and your AA has to be
there when it happens.23 You or your AA should get legal advice before
you agree to it. But the police can take your finger prints without your
agreement if:

  • you are detained because you have committed a crime
  • you have been charged for a crime, or
  • you have been told that you will be charged for a crime

The rules the police have to follow when they take samples are
complicated. You should get legal advice if you are not sure if you should
give samples.


When you speak to a solicitor they do not have to tell other people what you say because of ‘legal privilege’. But your appropriate adult (AA) doesn’t have legal privilege. They have a ‘duty of confidentiality’ which falls under common law. This means that they must not pass on what you say to the police or anyone else unless there are exceptional circumstances, such as a risk of serious harm to you or someone else.

But because your AA doesn’t have ‘legal privilege,’ a court could call them up as a witness and ask what you talked about. This is very rare, but it could happen. If you want your conversation to be completely private, you may want to speak to a solicitor without your AA with you.

What should I do if I am unhappy about something at the police

You can speak to your appropriate adult or custody sergeant if something has happened at the police station which you are not happy about. The custody sergeant should record your concerns in your custody record.

You can make a formal complaint to the police. There will be a leaflet about making a complaint in the police station.

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