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B v. London Borough of Merton

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Court/Judicial body: High Court of England and Wales (Administrative Division)

Citation: [2003] EWHC 1689
Date: 14 July 2003
Instrument(s) cited:Children Act 1989, Part IIIChildren and Young Persons Act 1933, Section 99Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980, Section 152

Case summary

Background: A boy, B, arrived in the United Kingdom in February 2003 and sought asylum. He approached the local authority in Merton seeking the support the authority has a legal obligation to provide to unaccompanied children, including accommodation. He claimed to have been born in Côte d’Ivoire in February 1986, that his mother died in 2000 and his father was murdered in Senegal while attending the funeral. A social worker at the Department of Housing and Social Services interviewed him and concluded that he was older than 17 and therefore not end to the protections guaranteed to an unaccompanied child. The interview was conducted with the assistance of a translator who did not attend in person, but was on a phone passed between B and the social worker. The local authority did not give B reasons for concluding that he was not a child. An NGO, Shelter, later commissioned an age assessment procedure that found that B could be aged between 16 and 20, but that the available tests could not be more precise than this.

Issue and resolution: Age assessment. The process used to determine the age of B was inadequate and procedurally flawed and the local authority was ordered to reconsider his age.

Court reasoning: The court held that a local authority was required to give adequate reasons for reaching a decision in an age assessment. In the current case, these findings could would have required the social worker to state that her decision had been made on the basis of appearance, behaviour and demeanour and the aspects of B’s explanation that had led her to conclude that he was lying about his age. The court found that the social worker should also have given B the opportunity to address the factors that had led her to consider that he had lied to her about his age.

Notes: At paras. 33-35 the judgment reviewed the official guidance in place at the time on carrying out an age assessment.

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