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Faculty of Advocates suggests review of 'appropriate adult' system before its extension

20 July 2018

A full review should be made of the ‘appropriate adult’ system for vulnerable people in police custody before it is applied to complainers and witnesses, the Faculty of Advocates has suggested.

The Scottish Government plans to put existing, non-statutory appropriate adult services on a statutory footing, and include victims and witnesses as being entitled to support.

In a response to a consultation on the proposals, the Faculty said the role of the appropriate adult should not be under-estimated, and that strenuous efforts should be made to ensure the statutory scheme was the best it could be, from the outset.

“The Faculty is wholly supportive of any modification to the system of investigation of crime that makes the process better for victims and witnesses and provides the necessary support to those who are not able to understand the process and communicate effectively with the police,” the response said.

“However, the Faculty suggests that, before the provision of an Appropriate Adult is made for vulnerable complainers and witnesses, a full assessment is undertaken and a report is prepared for consideration on how the system is working in practice at the present time.

“The Faculty cautions against the introduction of a deficient system with regard to vulnerable complainers and witnesses that may cause profound problems in investigation and prosecution of crime and which could, in some instances, damage the prospects of successful prosecution.”

Currently, where problems arose in the case of an accused, possibly affecting the admissibility of the accused’s interview, those were capable of identification and challenge by the accused’s lawyer, the Faculty noted.

“As there will be no lawyer present for vulnerable witness interviews, there will be no scope for intervention. A valuable check is therefore absent from the process.

“It is not clear to the Faculty whether there is some sort of ‘model’ for the engagement of the Appropriate Adult with vulnerable complainers or witnesses, or whether it is envisaged that safeguards be put in place to protect the integrity of the evidence ingathered by the police that will prevent challenges to the admissibility of the resulting evidence. These matters should be explored before the scheme is rolled out for vulnerable complainers and other witnesses.

“…the Faculty considers that a staged process of change is the best way in which to proceed…”
 

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