This weeks contribution to the PhD blog is from Roxanna Dehaghani.
Roxanna is a third year PhD candidate and Graduate Teaching Assistant at Leicester Law School, University of Leicester. She is also currently a Visiting Scholar at the School of Law, Queen’s University Belfast. Roxanna’s research, funded by the University of Leicester, focuses on the implementation of the appropriate adult safeguard in police custody, namely how an adult suspect comes to be recognised as vulnerable. This includes an examination of how custody officers define and identify vulnerability. Roxanna’s research has involved qualitative research methods, namely non-participant observation in custody and semi-structured interviews with custody officers.
The following blog post gives a brief overview of one of the elements of Roxanna’s doctoral work. If you would like to contact her you can email her firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet her @roxanna_law.
Vulnerability in Police Custody: Implementing the Appropriate Adult Safeguard
Vulnerable suspects – that is those who are under 18, or above 18 and with a ‘mental disorder’ or ‘mental vulnerability’ – should be provided with an appropriate adult when in police custody (see Code C to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE)). See also Codes D and H). The appropriate adult safeguard is required to facilitate communication, support, assist and advise the suspect and ensure that the police are acting fairly (Code C 2014, para 11.17. See also Home Office Guide for Appropriate Adults 2011). In short, it is designed to protect the vulnerable suspect from providing false or misleading information – information that could lead to false conviction. However, as previous research has established, there are issues with its implementation in practice (Bean and Nemitz 1995; Bradley 2009; Brown, Ellis, and Larcombe 1992; Bucke and Brown 1997; Gudjonsson et al 1993; Irving and McKenzie, 1989; Medford, Gudjonsson and Pearse 2000; National Appropriate Adult Network 2015; Palmer and Hart 1996; Phillips and Brown 1998. See also Bradley 2009; Cummins 2007; McKinnon and Grubin 2010). In 2003, a study indicated that 600 vulnerable adults brought into custody within a month were not provided with an appropriate adult (Medford, Gudjonsson and Pearse 2003: 253). In relation to those with mental illness, an analysis of custody records in the East Midlands illustrated that an appropriate adult was only used in 38 instances (0.016%) rather than the estimated 14% (Bradley 2009: 43). The recent National Appropriate Adult Network report (2015: Paper A: 4) suggested that the issue is manifold – identification rates are low because of:
A lack of effective and systematic screening, a lack of training for the police, …no visual or behaviour clues…, the influence of alcohol or drugs complicating the assessment, a disregard of self-reporting, the failure to use historical information… to identify learning disabilities, [suspect reluctance to disclose], [the use of standardised questions].
Previous studies have, therefore, established that there are impediments to the identification of vulnerability and the implementation of the appropriate adult safeguard. On the whole they suggested that the issues lay with identification practices. Of course, failure to identify vulnerability or implement the appropriate adult safeguard may not necessarily lead to erroneous conviction – section 76 of PACE requires that the court exclude confessions which could be considered unreliable, and section 78 of PACE permits that the court exclude evidence where the fairness of the proceedings demand it. Early identification of vulnerability can, however, ensure that justice is delivered (or at least not delayed), thus protecting the integrity of the individual and the process. Considering that many cases fail to reach the courts due to the propensity with the English criminal justice system for plea-bargaining (see Criminal Justice Act (CJA 2003) 2003, s 144 (1)) and out-of-court disposals (CJA 2003 s 23) non-implementation has the potential for being costly as the failure to safeguard will remain undetected.
Identification is not the only factor in the implementation of the safeguard. For example, as Bean and Nemitz indicated, the issue lies not necessarily with how vulnerability is identified; rather it arises as a result of how custody officers make sense of the information provided to them (1995). The identification of vulnerability is subject to the custody officer’s construction of vulnerability (see Dehaghani, forthcoming). This construction may not necessarily marry with the Code C definition – it certainly did not align with my own interpretation of vulnerability. It is through unpacking and exploring how vulnerability is defined, in addition to how vulnerability is identified and why certain decisions are made, that we can arrive at a better understanding of the implementation of the appropriate adult safeguard in police custody.
Bean, P., and Nemitz, T. (1995), Out of depth and out of sight. Loughborough: University of Loughborough.
Bradley, K.J.C (2009), Review of People with Mental Health Problems or Learning Disabilities in the Criminal Justice System. London: Department of Health.
Brown, D., Ellis, T., and Larcombe, K. (1992), Changing the Code: Police Detention Under the Revised PACE codes of Practice (Home Office Research Study No 129). London: Home Office.
Bucke, T., and Brown, D. (1997), In Police Custody: Police Powers and Suspects’ Rights under the Revised PACE codes of practice (Home Office Research Study No 174). London: Home Office.
Cummins, I. (2007), ‘A Path Not Taken? Mentally Disordered Offenders and the Criminal Justice System’ Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law, 28 (3-4), 267-281.
Dehaghani, R. (forthcoming), ‘He’s just not that vulnerable: Exploring the Implementation of the Appropriate Adult Safeguard in Police Custody’ Howard Journal of Crime and Justice.
Gudjonsson, G., Clare, I., Rutter, S. and Pearse, J. (1993), Persons at Risk During Interviews in Police Custody: The Identification of Vulnerabilities (Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure Research Study No 12). London: Home Office.
Home Office (2014), Revised Code of Practice for the Detention, Treatment and Questioning of Persons by Police Officers. Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984, Code C. London: Crown.
Home Office (2014), Revised code of practice in connection with detention, treatment and questioning by police officers under the Terrorism Act 2000. Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984. Code H. London: Crown.
Home Office (2010), Code of Practice for the Identification of Persons by Police Officers. Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984. Code D. London: Crown.
Irving, B., and Mckenzie, I. (1989), Police Interrogation: The Effects of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. London: Police Foundation.
Medford, S., Gudjonsson, G.H. and Pearse, J. (2003), ‘The efficacy of the appropriate adult safeguard during police interviewing’ Legal and Criminological Psychology, 8(2), 253-266.
McKinnon, I. and Grubin, D. (2010) ‘Health screening in police custody’ Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine 17, 209–212.
National Appropriate Adult Network (2015), There to help: Ensuring provision of appropriate adults for mentally vulnerable adults detained or interviewed by police. National Appropriate Adult Network.
Palmer, C. and Hart, M. (1996), A PACE in the right direction?: The effectiveness of safeguards in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 for mentally disordered and mentally handicapped suspects – A South Yorkshire Study. Sheffield: University of Sheffield.
Phillips, C. and Brown, D. (1998), Entry into the Criminal Justice System: A Survey of Police Arrests and their Outcomes (Home Office Research Study No 185). London: Home Office.
Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984
Criminal Justice Act 2003