It came as no surprise to criminal defence practitioners that a report prepared by mental health charity MIND, at the request of Home Secretary Theresa May, found the vast majority of mentally vulnerable suspects are being interviewed by the police without an appropriate adult.
There are somewhere in the region of 1.4m interviews at police stations each year, and a staggering 280,000 of these involve the mentally vulnerable.
Remarkably, only 45,000, or less than 20 per cent, of these individuals have appropriate adults present with them for support. It is obviously an extremely traumatic experience for most people to be in police custody suspected of committing a crime, but with so many being mentally vulnerable one can only imagine how confusing and frightening an experience it must be for them.
The Home Secretary describes the findings of the report as “unacceptable”, and states the Government will ensure vulnerable people are provided with the support they are entitled to.
Personally, I believe one of the reasons many are being denied this support is the police are under too much pressure.
There is almost a conveyer belt culture to get suspects in and out.
To arrange for an appropriate adult to be present does cause the police additional work, and can delay the time of the interview taking place.
The majority of appropriate adults also insist on lawyers being instructed, quite rightly in my opinion, which I’ve mentioned previously the police do not always approve of.
Another finding was that many custody sergeants reported difficulties in securing the attendance of appropriate adults outside of regular office hours.
Whatever the reasons might be, this cannot be allowed to continue and MIND have suggested proposals to ensure it does not.
They argue there should be a national framework for the provision of appropriate adults, improvements in police training and record keeping of the vulnerable, and possibly even a statutory duty on the police to secure an appropriate adult at the police station.