Brain Injury Survivors and the Law:

Posted: 27th July 2018

The role of an appropriate adult was set up to safeguard the interests of vulnerable individuals who are suspected of a criminal offence, to ensure that they are able to participate effectively and treated in a fair and just manner.

A vulnerable person can be a child or an adult with support needs. It is often harder to determine who has support needs especially when this is caused by an unseen brain injury. If the custody officer is not aware that the suspect has communication difficulties, any response or reaction may be confused with an act of aggression or drunken behaviour. If notified that the suspect has support needs, the custody officer needs to make sure the suspect is supported by the use of an appropriate adult. If the custody office is unaware of the suspects needs and no one has contacted the custody officer to notify them, this can lead to miscommunication and potentially miscarriages of justice.

We at EMG act on behalf of many brain injury survivors who can get wrongly (and sometimes rightly!) arrested. Having a Headway brain injury card will help the police identify brain injury survivors and ensure they are given appropriate support when they come into contact with the criminal justice system. The brain injury card is personalised to include the individual’s photo and lists some of the effects they commonly experience to assist the brain injured person as well as the police. The project is also supported by the National Appropriate Adult Network and was launched by HRH Prince Henry of Wales.

When it is identified that an appropriate adult is needed, this role can be undertaken by any responsible adult over the age of 18. However there a few people who cannot under take this role – anyone who might be a suspect, victim, witness or otherwise involved in the investigation, solicitors, police or employees of the police, a person suspected of involvement in the commission, preparation or instigation of terrorism.

An appropriate adult is expected to be an active participant at the police station they are required to:

Observe -The treatment of the person by the police, the persons condition, the persons understanding of the content and significance of the information they have been given as well as their own replies and whether the police/other parties have understood the meaning intended by the person.

Advise, support and assist a person for any procedure as required – including the caution, interview, id procedures, consents to samples taken, searches, review of the custody record, charging, bail decisions, to assist in communication, cautions etc

Inform and intervene – if they do not believe that the treatment of the person is compliant with their rights and welfare entitlements, if they believe the persons condition has change significantly and wherever necessary to assist the person in effective communication to avoid oppressive, confusing or repetitive questioning by the police.

It can be an extremely worrying time when someone you know is arrested let alone if they are a vulnerable person. Naturally you would want to be there to support them, to assist them in understanding what is happening but with emotions running high there are independent volunteers who are trained by the National Appropriate Adult Network (NAAN). They can be accessed by the custody officer contacting the local NAAN. Further information on a headway card – Further information on NAAN-