The role of an Appropriate Adult (AA) is to facilitate communication between adults (people aged 16 or over) who have specific learning disabilities or mental health illnesses and those within the criminal justice system.
These specific learning disabilities are described by current legislation as 'any mental illness, personality disorder, learning disability however caused or manifested'. It also includes people with acquired brain injury, autistic spectrum disorder and people suffering from dementia.
An Appropriate Adult can be present at every stage of an investigation, including searches, interviews, medical examinations, the taking of forensic samples, fingerprinting, photographing, identity parades and court proceedings.
In 2015, following a successful pilot of our service model, we secured the contract to deliver the Appropriate Adult Service across Ayrshire.
Our service is accessed using a dedicated 24/7 contact number and we aim to respond to requests for the service within 1 hour. Between October 2014 and August 2016 we received over 950 requests for support and had an average response time of 34 minutes.
We have a team of highly experienced professionals from backgrounds such as Social Services, Health, Education and Criminal Justice. Delivering our own bespoke training we ensure that they remain competent and up to date with current developments.
We are supported by an experienced retired consultant psychiatrist who had been employed as such by NHS Ayrshire and Arran until 2012, latterly fulfilling the role of Clinical Director, Mental Health Services.
Our service includes support at court as the three Ayrshire local authorities choose to support accused persons and witnesses in need at the courts in Ayrshire thereby providing a through service from first point of contact with Police Scotland/Justice Services to end point of contact.
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My own view is that the AA service is invaluable and essential in a court setting. When an Appropriate Adult does not assist an accused or witness, with communication difficulties within the justice system, it is conceivable that a legal challenge to his/her status may occur on the grounds of fairness. I have seen a huge improvement in the pro-active service which we have come to expect in recent times.
Moreover, I comment regularly to colleagues who share my enthusiasm. Since the new service commenced and requests for Appropriate Adults have been made I cannot think of a case where one has not been provided on time. On any occasion where I have required to select a specific gender of appropriate adult, this has been taken into account. I am hugely impressed with the service provided.
I am responsible at supervisory level for the coordinated investigation of serious sexual offences across Ayrshire. The Appropriate Adult service now provided is of a very high standard. There is a single dedicated contact number which is available 24 hours a day. Brief details of the need for an AA are communicated and within an hour an AA attends briefed by their Coordinator in preparation for their deployment. Victims are always treated with respect and compassion by the AA’s putting them at ease, which assists us to effectively and efficiently proceed with our enquiry. I am aware of similar positive comment from colleagues regarding the AA service provided.