A legal regime requiring local authorities to provide an appropriate adult to support people with conditions such as autism during police investigations comes into force across Scotland today.

Appropriate adult services have been provided where required during police investigations by local authorities on a non-statutory basis since the early 1990s. However the level of service has varied. The new standard scheme stems from the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016, which contains provisions relating to support for vulnerable suspects.

People entitled are those aged 16 or over who, owing to a mental disorder, are unable to understand what is happening or communicate effectively with the police. “Mental disorder” covers a wide range of conditions including any mental illness, personality disorder or learning disability, autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), acquired brain injury and dementia.

The police now have a duty to request the type of support provided by an appropriate adult for vulnerable persons in custody, and local authorities have a duty to provide appropriate adults when requested to do so by the police (whether the request is made by the police, or whether it relates to support for a victim or witness), as well as a responsibility to train appropriate adults. The Care Inspectorate will be responsible for assessing the quality of appropriate adult provision.

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf commented: “Appropriate adults provide an essential service in the criminal justice system, helping to ensure that the rights of all vulnerable individuals are safeguarded during police procedures. Breaking down barriers to communication also supports the police in their investigations.

“We are the first in the UK to implement a statutory appropriate adult service, part of ensuring Scotland’s justice system remains up to date, fair and respectful of the rights and diverse needs of all who pass through it, whether they are a victim, witness, suspect or accused.”