Dealing with a detainee who cannot read and write

23 December 2020

Not reviewed after the date of publication

Question: 

Please can you confirm who can fulfil the role to check documentation when the detainee cannot read or write?

Can this be a police officer not involved in the investigation when the suspect does not want a solicitor, does not have an appropriate adult (and one is not required), nor a relative available.

Answer:

Paragraph 3.20 of PACE Code C states that:

“3.20 If the detainee is blind, seriously visually impaired or unable to read, the custody officer shall make sure their solicitor, relative, appropriate adult or some other person likely to take an interest in them and not involved in the investigation is available to help check any documentation. When this Code requires written consent or signing the person assisting may be asked to sign instead, if the detainee prefers. This paragraph does not require an appropriate adult to be called solely to assist in checking and signing documentation.”

Specific responsibility is placed on a the custody officer to ensure that interpreting support is provided for blind, deaf or otherwise vulnerable detainees who may have difficulty understanding procedures or completing documentation. People with dyslexia or learning difficulties are likely to find reading and understanding documents difficult and may need to have the information communicated verbally. Although, as stated above in paragraph 3.20, it will not be necessary to call an appropriate adult to be called solely to assist in checking and signing documentation.

Unfortunately, PACE fails to define what is meant by ‘some other person likely to take an interest in them’. Therefore, it would be our view that a common sense approach should be adopted. Where there is no other person that can be called on a detainee’s behalf, then, in our opinion, we do not believe that it would be an issue for a police officer not involved in the investigation, to assist the individual. Ultimately, this can only be confirmed by further guidance being issued and, if challenged, it would be for the courts to decide.

To read more legislation about this, login to the legal database. 

Back to Legal Questions