The National Appropriate Adult Network highlights challenges in use of voluntary interviews by police

Voluntary Interviews: Police use of voluntary interview and the application of the appropriate adult safeguard in England and Wales in 2022/23

The National Appropriate Adult Network’s report (the ‘Report’) outlines the issues involved in police use of voluntary interviews (‘VIs’) and provides solutions aimed at addressing such issues.


145,000 VIs were conducted in 2022/23, with the use of VIs for children increasing vis-à-vis the previous year. In 2022/23, one in five VIs involved children, and the ratio of arrests to VIs for children was 2:1 (compared to 5:1 for adults) (page 5 of the Report).

The benefits of VIs include reducing policing risks and the psychological impact of custody, while increasing efficiency in investigative and court processes and supporting compliance with domestic legislation, courts’ expectations, and international human rights standards (page 4 of the Report).

However, its implementation does not come without challenges.

Key issues in use of VIs and proposed solutions[1]

  • Responsibility of police officers (‘POs’) and non-police investigatory bodies (‘NPIBs’) regarding VIs is unclear. A single source of national guidance incorporating the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (‘PACE’), other legislation and codes of practice should be accessible to POs and NPIBs. Oversight by senior officers uninvolved with the case should be provided to POs.
  • POs have discretion in offering VIs, and the circumstances in which VIs are appropriate remain unclear. National guidance for such exercise of discretion (including guidance as to who should exercise discretion and criteria for exercise of discretion) should be developed.
  • POs do not always identify vulnerability in relevant persons, and there is insufficient clarity on information sharing with health and social services. POs should be trained to understand relevant PACE requirements, and the party responsible for conducting assessments for such purposes should be identified. A national assessment tool should be developed to determine vulnerability and safety of relevant persons, with vulnerable individuals having access to appropriate liaisons. Joint guidance on information sharing should be developed.
  • Appropriate locations and timings for VIs remain unclear. VIs should be scheduled to allow sufficient time for preparation, and be held in environments that cannot be confused with detention, are fair and are safe for all parties.
  • Unclear communications and lack of clarity regarding the ‘voluntary’ aspect of VIs results in individuals failing to fully understand obligations and consequences of non-attendance. A template invitation to VIs should be developed, incorporating sufficient information for informed agreement without being overwhelming.
  • AAs may be unavailable or have insufficient information regarding the case due to unpredictable VI scheduling. The VI process and AA referral process should be reviewed to ensure coordination and information sharing.
  • Lack of contact between AAs and interviewees prior to arrival at VIs generates inefficiency. The AA has a missed opportunity to better understand the needs of the interviewee, and the interviewee to understand the consequences of non-attendance and their own rights. Guidance on effective engagement between AAs and interviewees prior to VIs should be established.  
  • Administrative recording systems of VIs is poor and guidance regarding interview recording systems are unclear. National guidance should be developed for interview recording systems, and police should develop a system for collecting and monitoring VI data.
  • Lack of clarity around agreements or consents to VIs (including whether ‘agreement’ or ‘consent’ is the appropriate term, the person responsible for the response, the validity of the response, and whether the response can be caveated). Legal advice and access to AAs should be provided at point of invitation to VIs, and national guidance should clarify the terminology, its associated requirements and the possibility of caveats.
  • Legal advice system may not offer sufficient legal support for interviewees and AAs undergoing VIs due to timing and location of VIs. Opt-out or mandatory attendance of legal representatives at VIs should be arranged, and legal aid specifications should be reviewed to ensure effectiveness for VIs.


While VIs have the potential to benefit children through enabling greater flexibility and reducing the detrimental impacts of custody, the Report highlights multiple areas in the VI process where children and vulnerable persons may receive insufficient protection. Recurring themes include unclear communication and the inconsistent or incomplete provision of information. These problems can be resolved through national-level guidance for VIs, as well as dialogue between relevant stakeholders (e.g. social services and the police) to improve the VI process.

Written by Rei See (Associate) and Maria Korchik (Trainee) at Paul Hastings LLP 

[1] [[As further detailed in pages 17 to 24 of the Report.]]