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Court rules Home Office policy on detaining asylum seekers who look older than 18 is unlawful


Test case finds age of an individual is a matter of "objective fact" and cannot be based on physical appearance or demeanour

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The High Court has ruled in a test case that the Home Office should not be able to detain child asylum seekers just because officials think they look 18 or older, the Guardian reported yesterday.

Image credit: WikipediaEIN members can read the judgment in AA, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department & Anor [2016] EWHC 1453 (Admin) here.

According to the Guardian, Sir Stephen Sibler concluded that for the purposes of immigration detention the age of an individual is a matter of "objective fact" and cannot be based on physical appearance or demeanour.

Currently, the Guardian says, Home Office policy allows an asylum seeker who claims to be a child to be detained in an adult immigration centre if the official processing their case believes they are 18 or over.

Stuart Luke from AA's solictor, Bhatia Best, told the Guardian: "Since 2013 when the Home Office introduced these rules about age assessment I have seen an increase in these cases. Today's landmark judgment is very important because it protects the rights of unaccompanied asylum seeker children who come to the UK."

The Refugee Council welcomed the judgment, saying it will have far reaching consequences.

Refugee Council Policy Manager Judith Dennis said: "This judgment is extremely significant and sends a clear message to the Home Office that its current policy is both unlawful and indefensible. For too long the Government has been jeopardising the safety of children who it should be protecting."

According to the Daily Mail, Home Office lawyers say the case is "profoundly troubling for the efficient running of a fair immigration system".

John McKendrick QC, appearing for the Home Secretary, said that a ruling in favour of AA would lead to an "'absurd and anomalous" outcome, given the difficulty of assessing the age of young people who arrive in the UK without any birth certificate or passport and claiming to be children, and could lead to major difficulties operating the immigration detention scheme.

The Guardian says that the Home Office has been granted permission to appeal against the ruling.