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R (AA) v. Secretary of State for the Home Department

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Court/Judicial body:
High Court of Justice, Queen’s Bench Division (Administrative Court)

[2016] EWHC 1453 (Admin)

20 June 2016
Instrument(s) cited:
Immigration Act 1971, Schedule 2, paras. 16, 18B
Children Act 1989, s. 20
Borders Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009, s. 55

Case summary

An unaccompanied Sudanese child arrived in the UK in July 2014 and claimed asylum. The following year, he was detained for 13 days, allegedly under the Immigration Act 1971. The Immigration Act 1971 grants immigration officers the power to detain a person while a decision is made about deportation or to carry out a deportation (Schedule 2, para. 16). Where the person is an “unaccompanied child” further restrictions apply, including that the detention must only take place in a short term holding facility or while being transferred to a short term holding facility and not for more than 24 hours (Schedule 2, para. 18B).   Three days before the boy was released, the Secretary of State for the Home Department received a copy of an age assessment conducted by Wolverhampton City Council, finding that he was under the age of 18. The boy approached the court asking for a ruling that he had been unlawfully detained for the full 13 days that he was detained and seeking damages for false imprisonment. The Secretary of State for the Home Department accepted that the boy had been unlawfully detained from the point that she received the age assessment document, but disputed that the detention was unlawful up until that point.

Issue and resolution:
Immigration detention and age assessment. The claimant had been unlawfully detained for the entire period that he was held.

Court reasoning:
The court found that the definition of “a child” as a person under 18 within the Immigration Act 1971 should be interpreted literally and objectively, rather than being read as a person determined to be under 18 by the assessment and reasonable belief of an immigration officer. As the claimant was under the age of 18 at the time he was detained and his detention had not met the requirements of the Immigration Act, he had been unlawfully detained, regardless of the reasonable belief of the immigration officer.  The High Court was unconvinced by the Home Secretary’s contention that it would be “unrealistic” to believe immigration officers could obtain evidence of a person’s age in less than 24 hours, and that such would lead to an “absurd and anomalous outcome”. The Court instead found that such provisions simply meant “the immigration officers have to be very careful in detaining individuals who claim to be children”. The court also held that even if the use of detention had not been unlawful from the start, detention would have become unlawful at the point that the Secretary of State received an age assessment finding that the boy was under the age of 18 and had been given due time to consider the evidence. The court held that in these circumstances, the age assessment should have been considered when it was received and a decision on release made on the same day.

Link to full judgement:

This case summary is provided by the Child Rights International Network for educational and informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.