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High Court rules children's services departments must support age disputed asylum seekers


Benefit of the doubt must be given to asylum seeker pending the determination of age assessment

Date of Publication:
27 February 2017

In a judgment handed down on Friday, the High Court has ruled that local authority children's services departments are required to support and accommodate age disputed asylum seekers during the age assessment process.

Image credit: WikipediaEIN members can read the judgment in S, R (on the application of) v London Borough of Croydon [2017] EWHC 265 (Admin) here.

The Refugee Council says that the ruling comes as a result of a legal challenge brought against Croydon Council's refusal to accommodate a Refugee Council client from Iraq - known as S - whose age was disputed and being assessed.

S was forced to live in adult asylum accommodation while his age was determined.

In Friday's judgment, Mr Justice Lavender ruled that the benefit of the doubt must be given to the age disputed asylum seeker pending the determination of an age assessment.

It means that local authorities are now legally bound to accommodate young people whose ages they are challenging, the Refugee Council says, and local authorities will need to follow best practice guidance produced by the Association of Directors of Children's Services.

Refugee Council Head of Children's Services Helen Johnson was quoted as saying: "It's extremely welcome that the courts have recognised what the experts have known for some time; that it's absolutely fundamental that until a young person's age has been established they are cared for in a safe and supportive environment. Unaccompanied children who seek refuge in the UK have often suffered horrific abuse and exploitation that most grown ups would find difficult to imagine. Today's ruling will help keep more of these children safe at a frightening and bewildering time."

Doughty Street's Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, who acted for the Equality and Human Rights Commission which intervened in this case, says that the judgment answers an important, previously undecided legal question.

In an article here, Gallagher wrote: "Mr Justice Lavender has ruled that the benefit of the doubt must be given to the age disputed young person, and that it is unlawful for the local authority to refuse to comply with its duties under ss. 17 and 20, Children Act 1989 pending the determination of the age assessment."

She continued: "The issue arising in this case is a discrete, short one, but of great significance to S and to other age disputed asylum seekers, during the limbo period before the age assessment process is completed. This is a particularly vulnerable group, as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has recognised, describing their "extreme vulnerability" and referring to them as amongst the most vulnerable individuals within an already vulnerable asylum-seeking community."

"An unaccompanied child being denied child-appropriate accommodation, appropriate services and / or access to education, even on a temporary basis pending the conducting of an age assessment, raises very serious concerns. The High Court has now put beyond doubt that Croydon was wrong to presume that S was an adult; instead, the benefit of the doubt should be given to S and other age disputed asylum seekers."