This fact sheet is for adults who are looking after a young person (under 18) who is accused of a crime and in police custody.
A Responsible Adult in relation to a young person (under 18) means a parent, guardian or other person who has the responsibility for the day to day care of the young person.
Young people (under 18) have additional rights when arrested in custody that adults do not have, as outlined below and in our fact sheet ‘Police powers: “Arrest” also our fact sheet “Police Questioning About a Crime”.
If a young person has been arrested and taken into custody the Police should notify the young person’s Responsible Adult as soon as practicable and keep them informed as to the whereabouts of the young person.
The degree of responsibility required of the Responsible Adult will depend on the independence and maturity of the young person such as whether they are employed or living independently and how close in age they are to 18.
If Police want to ask a young person who has been arrested questions about an offence, the Police must ensure that a Responsible Adult has received notice of the intention to question the young person. (This does not apply to any questions that the Police are required to ask by written law, e.g. whether they were the driver of a motor vehicle or the young person’s name, address and date of birth.)
If the Police charge a young person with an offence the Police must give the Responsible Adult notice of the intention to lay the charge as soon as reasonably practicable.
The notice given to the Responsible Adult will usually be by telephone or in person but can be by mail sent to the address of the Responsible Adult. If the Responsible Adult cannot be located or it would be inappropriate to give the Responsible Adult notice then the Police do not have to give notice.
The Police should request that the Responsible Adult attend the Police Station if they intend to interview the young person about the offence. If they are unable to locate a Responsible Adult, they should find another person who can take on the role of the Responsible Adult (called an Independent Witness) when the young person is questioned by Police.
Young people are vulnerable and experience particular disadvantage when in Police custody. Having a parent, guardian or Independent Witness present when being questioned by Police about their alleged involvement in criminal conduct goes some way to protect the interests of the young person.
There is no law in Western Australia that provides that Police must not question a person under the age of 18 unless there is also present a parent, guardian or Independent Witness, unlike legislation existing in other states (Victoria, NSW, Queensland, ACT and NT) but the Commissioner of Police has made rules or orders contained in “Commissioner’s Orders & Procedures Manual” (COPS Manual), which states that a young person should have a Responsible Adult or Independent Witness present when a young person is interviewed.
Unless a Responsible Adult is present, any statement or confession given to the Police by a young person may be held inadmissible in court.
There is no legislation, but case law has held:
The role of the Responsible Adult/Independent Witness attending the Police Station and the Police interview is an active one not a passive one and includes:
The Role of Responsible Adult/Independent Witness cannot be fulfilled:
No – he or she can say they do not wish to be interviewed.
Alternatively, the young person can appear in the interview and, apart from giving his or her name, address and date of birth, say “no comment” to any other questions put to them.
The Responsible Adult will be told:
The Responsible Person should ensure as the interview proceeds that the young person continues to agree to be interviewed so that the interview remains voluntary.
Apart from introducing themselves initially in the interview room, the Responsible Adult must not get involved in answering the questions for the young person nor adopt a disapproving stance against the young person (e.g. eye rolling, sighing). The young person must be made to feel that the Responsible Adult is a support person for them.
The Responsible Adult can talk during the interview. They can explain anything or ask for clarification of anything that they believe the young person does not understand. What they cannot say is things like “Go on tell them the truth, it will go better for you”.
The Responsible Adult can ask for the interview to stop at any time if they become concerned about the young person.
The Responsible Adult can terminate the interview and speak to the young person to find out if they want to continue. They can ask for a break if they feel the young person needs it, they can ask for the interview to stop if they feel the young person has had enough or it is not in their best interest to continue.
Yes. Before the interview the Police “COPS Manual” and case law suggest that the Police must allow the young person to communicate with the Responsible Adult/Independent Witness in private before the commencement of questioning where conversation will not be overheard.
Exception: If the communication would result in the escape or destruction of evidence, the safety of persons would be at risk or the questioning is so urgent that it should not be delayed.
There may be problems communicating with a lawyer if the young person does not know any. The young person can contact Youth Legal Service, or Legal Aid WA during office hours.
If the young person is an Aboriginal Australian, the Police must contact the Aboriginal Legal Service, Custody Notification Service to let them know they are in custody and allow them to speak with a Lawyer. The Custody Notification Service operates 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
The young person can always ask to be interviewed after they have spoken with a lawyer.
The Responsible Adult will have to attend court if the young person is charged if they have signed the bail as the Responsible Adult.
An Independent Witness will not necessarily have to attend court. They may be called if there is a dispute about whether the interview was conducted voluntarily.
It is recommended that after the interview, the Responsible Adult/Independent Witness make notes about everything that occurred (as a memory refresher) in case they are called as a witness.
Please note: Laws are subject to change. Last updated July 2020.
Important: The information provided in this infosheet is for information only.
It should not be relied on as legal advice.
Please seek legal advice about your particular circumstances.