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09 August 2023

Upper Tribunal Judge critical of social workers going beyond their ‘appropriate expertise’ in an age assessment

3 mins

Basmah Sahib of Bindmans LLP has secured a positive age decision in the case of E v Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (JR-2022-LON-001940).

Yesterday afternoon, UTJ Canavan ruled that ‘E’ was born on the date that she claimed, and that she was likely to have been a 17-year-old child when she arrived in the UK in July 2021.

On arrival in the UK, E was age assessed first by the Kent Intake Unit, and again by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC). Both assessments were ‘short form’ in nature. An appropriate adult was not present during RBKC’s assessment, and E was assisted by a telephone interpreter. Both assessments concluded that E was older than claimed, emphasising her physical appearance. Social workers from RBKC also made adverse findings about E’s credibility.

Lord Justice Warby sitting in the Court of Appeal granted E permission to proceed with her judicial review challenge against RBKC’s age decision. He observed that the findings in the case of MA & HT v Coventry City Council [2022] EWHC 98 (Admin) ‘cast a shadow’ over the short form age assessment that was completed by Home Office officials at the Kent Intake Unit, whose findings RBKC had adopted into its own conclusions about E’s age and date of birth. Lord Justice Warby held that ‘the fairness ground merits fuller consideration in conjunction with the factual issue’, which is in keeping with Mr Justice Swift’s decision in HAM v London Borough of Barnet [2022] EWHC 1924 (Admin).

E’s case was transferred to the Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber), where UTJ Canavan heard evidence over the course of a two-day trial. E was supported by her friend and professional witnesses from Young Roots and the Helen Bamber Foundation, all of whom had known her for several years by the date of the trial. The judge also heard from E’s personal advisor from RBKC.

In arriving at her ruling, the judge held that the evidence from witnesses who have come to know E better over time is ‘weighty’, whereas the local authority’s initial age assessment was described by the judge as beinglimited in nature, based on brief meetings, and on factors that are not particularly reliable, such as appearance and demeanour.’

The judge specifically addressed RBKC’s findings under the ‘credibility’ heading of the social workers’ assessment, holding that ‘Although I accept that an important part of any assessment is to consider the family and educational history of a young person, and whether they have given an open and consistent account of that history, the matters considered in this assessment appeared to go beyond what was necessary to assess E’s age and went beyond the appropriate expertise of the social workers.’

Basmah Sahib, solicitor at Bindmans who represented E, comments:

Yesterday’s ruling will give E vindication, access to age appropriate education, support as a care leaver and a chance to start her young life in the UK on the right foot. We hope that lessons will be learned about the inherent procedural shortcomings of brief interviews as an aid for determining age.

E was represented by Basmah Sahib and Jessie Brennan of Bindmans LLP, with the assistance of Claire Hann, along with counsel Antonia Benfield of Doughty Street Chambers.

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