Supporting vulnerable adults in criminal cases

Appropriate Adult services to be standardised across Scotland.

Local authorities will be legally required to provide an Appropriate Adult to support people with conditions such as autism during police investigations from today.

The level of service for vulnerable victims, witnesses, suspects and accused will be standardised across Scotland and £1 million has been made available annually to local authorities to support delivery. The quality of provision will be assessed by the Care Inspectorate.

Police will now have a statutory duty to identify vulnerable people when they are brought into custody, giving legal underpinning to their existing commitment to ensure support is offered when needed.

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said:

“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.”

Tony Bowman, Policy and Development Worker at the SOLD Network, who work with people with additional support needs in the justice system, said:

“This represents an important step forward to ensure all vulnerable people receive communication support when they come into contact with the justice system.

“Clear communication during police procedures is key to ensuring the rights of all involved are protected. Placing these duties on local authorities and the police will provide support to vulnerable people when needed, ensuring fairness throughout police procedures.”


Legislation coming into force on 10 January 2020 stems from the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016, which contains provisions relating to support for vulnerable suspects and to Appropriate Adult (AA) services:

  • a duty on the police to request the type of support provided by an Appropriate Adult for vulnerable persons in custody
  • a duty on local authorities 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), and make Local Authorities responsible for training AAs and the Care Inspectorate responsible for assessing the quality of AA provision.

A vulnerable person is defined in the legislation as being a person aged 16 or over who, owing to a mental disorder, is unable to understand what is happening or communicate effectively with the police. The term “mental disorder” is taken from the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) Scotland Act 2003 and includes any mental illness, personality disorder or learning disability. This covers a wide range of illnesses and conditions including autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), acquired brain injury and dementia.

Appropriate Adult services have been provided where required during police investigations by local authorities on a non-statutory basis across Scotland since the early 1990s.


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