Appropriate Adult Services

Support for Vulnerable People Involved in the Criminal Justice System


Appropriate Adults play a vital role in supporting equity of access to the justice system and the upholding of human rights.

Appropriate Adults understand the importance of fairness in the justice system. They come from a variety of backgrounds, are trained to a national standard and have practical experience of working with people with communication difficulties.

What do they do?

Appropriate Adults support people to understand what is happening, and to be understood, during police investigations. They provide support to:

  • people aged 16 years and over


  • communication support needs due to mental health challenges, learning disability, personality disorder and/or other factors including brain injury, cognitive impairment and neurodiversity such as autism and ADHD.

People can be victims, witnesses, a suspect and/or an accused in an investigation.

Although not a statutory responsibility, a small number of services provide Appropriate Adult support to people during Court processes.

Appropriate Adults:

  • identify how a person’s communication support needs may impact their understanding of proceedings
  • raise any concerns about the person’s communication needs or welfare with the police or other relevant organisations
  • ensure, as far as possible, the person understands their rights and any questions asked of them
  • always remain impartial
  • have an awareness of police procedures
  • where applicable, ensure, as far as possible, that the person understands a procedure so they can decide whether to consent or not
  • are not protected by confidentiality. This means anything they become aware of must be shared with the relevant authorities including concerns of harm
  • are not qualified to provide a formal assessment of an individual’s health or communications issues.

They should not:

  • provide legal advice or tell the person how or whether to answer questions
  • object to, or intervene in, any questions being asked by police other than to facilitate communication
  • be an employee of Police Scotland or other referring agencies
  • be a family member
  • have a professional or personal relationship with the person
  • be used to assist with a victim/witness and the accused in the same case
  • be left alone with the person or their friends and family members
  • be present during the discussion between the solicitor and the person.

The majority of referrals are received from Police Scotland. However, Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016 widened access to Border Force, British Transport Police, Police Investigations & Review Commissioner, Civic Nuclear Constabulary, Her Majesty’s Revenues & Customs, Ministry of Defence and National Crime Agency.

The Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016 (Support for Vulnerable Persons) Regulations 2019 - which came into force on 10 January 2020 - confer on Local Authorities the duties to deliver Appropriate Adult services. There are 21 Appropriate Adult services within Scotland representing all 32 Local Authorities. The services were placed on a statutory footing in January 2020 with work now underway to support Local Authorities transitioning to statutory arrangements.

National Appropriate Adult Project

COSLA has hosted the National Appropriate Adult Co-ordinator since September 2020 and the Policy & Participation Officer (Appropriate Adults) since April 2022.  This was a result of an agreement to work with the Scottish Government to implement the new statutory Appropriate Adult services. The aims of the project are to:

  • Promote consistency, quality and sustainability in relation to Appropriate Adult provision across Scotland
  • Implement national Appropriate Adult training framework
  • Promote awareness of the role of the Appropriate Adult across different sectors
  • Contribute to implementation of quality assessment framework for local authorities in relation to Appropriate Adult services
  • Contribute to development and implementation of policy initiative relating to Appropriate Adults and communication support in the criminal justice system
  • Deliver on specific and thematic pieces of work including the national Appropriate Adult reports, research and guidance
  • Supporting the stakeholder group overseeing the implementation of the statutory service, structuring work of the group’s agenda and coordinate its actions.

Appropriate Adults National Oversight Group

National oversight arrangements for the implementation of the new duties are now in place with the Scottish Government mandated National Appropriate Adult Oversight Group. Active members of the group currently are:

  • Mental Welfare Commission (Chair)
  • National Appropriate Adult Co-ordinator COSLA (Secretariat)
  • Scottish Government
  • Care Inspectorate
  • Police Scotland
  • Social Work Scotland
  • Royal College of Speech & Language Therapy
  • Supporting Offenders with a Learning Disability (SOLD) Network
  • People First
  • ARC Scotland
  • Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service
  • Law Society of Scotland
  • Support in Mind Scotland
  • The Forensic Network
  • Victim Support Scotland
  • Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB)
  • Representatives from the National Operational Group
  • Representatives from the National Practitioners' Forum

Please find below Notes from group meetings:


The Guidance for Local Authorities, published in January 2020, can be accessed here. This is due to be reviewed in 2022.


The first edition of the Appropriate Adults Newsletter was published in May 2021.

Edition 1

Edition 2 (July 2021)

Edition 3 (September 2021)

Edition 4 (November 2021)

Edition 5 (January 2022)

Edition 6 (March 2022)

Edition 7 (May 2022)

Edition 8 (July 2022)

Edition 9 (January 2023)

Edition 11 (April 2023)

Edition 12 (July 2023)

Edition 13 (October 2023)

Edition 14 (December 2023)

Annual Reports

National Appropriate Adult Project Annual Report 2021-22

National Appropriate Adult Project Annual Report 2022-23

Fran Donohoe
Policy & Participation Officer (Appropriate Adults)