RSS Feed

Tag Archives: age assessment

Coal Board and Age Assessments

 

It has been a very long while since we had a piece of case law on age assessment. If you are already saying “I bet it involves Croydon”, then gold star for robot boy, well done!

London Borough of Croydon v Y 2016

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2016/398.html

Y turned up in this country from Nigeria. He claimed to have been born in 1999, and that he had been trafficked here. If true, that would mean that he was a child and entitled to accommodation via Croydon’s social work department and services and would be able to stay until 18. If not true, he would be an adult, and would probably be liable for deportation. [In this case, he absolutely would have been deported, it was the age argument that was putting that process on hold]

There’s therefore quite a vested interest in people who are not under 18 claiming that they are.

A number of individuals arrive in this country seeking asylum and claiming to be under 18. Most are males and have entered or have sought to enter by clandestine means. They are referred to as Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC). That description includes those who assert that they are under 18. Many who travel from countries where they allege they are being persecuted such as Afghanistan or Iraq will have been assisted by agents and in any event the advantages of persuading the authorities that they are under 18 are well-known. Those advantages include the automatic grant of leave to remain until aged 18 coupled with the inability to return to Member States of the European Union if the individual would otherwise be returnable in accordance with the Dublin Regulations. In addition, as children they will usually be entitled to the care and accommodation which a local authority is obliged to provide to children in need. Thus the assessment of their age is most important.

 

[Collins J in A v London Borough of Croydon [2009] EWHC 939 (Admin), ]

 

In this case, Croydon’s age assessment was based largely on Y’s physical appearance (as it was in a case I once had where the alleged 16 year old had a beard that Captain Birdseye would have been proud of). Y judicially reviewed that decision.

The Court gave some directions

 

5.On 1 September 2015, UT Judge Allen gave directions in the age assessment challenge proceedings. These included (i) that the matter be listed for a 4 day fact-finding hearing in order to determine Y’s date of birth; and (ii) that Y be granted permission to rely on reports by Dr Juliet Cohen, a forensic physician, Dr Susannah Fairweather, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and Ms Christine Beddoe, specialist adviser on human trafficking and child exploitation.

  1. The trial was fixed to start on 8 February 2016

 

Croydon then made an application to strike out the claim

 

On 20 November 2015, Croydon applied to the Upper Tribunal Asylum and Immigration Chamber for an order that the challenge to the age assessment should be struck out (or stayed) unless Y consented to and co-operated fully with (i) a dental examination (including a dental X-ray) by Professor Roberts, (ii) a psychiatric examination and (iii) an age assessment by two Croydon social workers. In support of this application, Croydon relied inter alia on the decision of this court in Starr v National Coal Board [1977] 1 WLR 63 to which I shall refer in some detail later in this judgment

 

[I’m not QUITE sure why that was an application to the Upper Tribunal Asylum and Immigration Chamber, rather than to the Judge who had given case management directions in the judicial review. It rather seems to me that those were applications for case management directions /orders in the judicial review fact finding, but the Court of Appeal don’t take up that point, so perhaps it is just a bad one on my behalf]

You’ll have seen the reference to Starr v National Coal Board 1977. It is not the same National Coal Board that comes up very infrequently (in judicial bias cases or recusal cases, citing Lord Denning’s remark that the Judge had intervened too much and ‘descended into the arena’)

 

The Starr principles

  1. The case of Starr concerned a claim in negligence for damages for personal injury, namely ulnar nerve compression. It was conceded by the plaintiff that it was necessary for the defendant, in preparing its defence, to be advised by a consultant neurologist who had had the opportunity of examining him. The defendant had nominated Dr X for that purpose. The plaintiff objected to examination by Dr X without stating his reasons. But he said that he was willing to be examined by any other consultant neurologist of similar qualification and experience to Dr X. The defendant applied for a stay of all further proceedings until the plaintiff submitted to an examination by Dr X. This court upheld the stay that had been granted by the judge.
  2. At p 70H, Scarman LJ said that in the exercise of its discretion in this class of case, the court has to recognise that in the balance there are “two fundamental rights, which are cherished by the common law and to which attention has to be directed by the court”. The first is the plaintiff’s right to personal liberty. The second is an equally fundamental right, namely the defendant’s right to defend itself as it and its advisers think fit, including the freedom to choose the witnesses that it will call. It is particularly important that a defendant should be able to choose its own expert witnesses, if the case is one in which expert testimony is significant. He went on to say that, if a defendant in a personal injuries case made a reasonable request for the plaintiff to be medically examined by a doctor chosen by the defendant, the plaintiff should accede to the request unless he had reasonable grounds for objecting to the particular doctor chosen by the defendant. Applying these principles to the facts of the case, Scarman LJ said at p 72H:
    1. “I have, therefore, come to the conclusion that the request for medical examination of the plaintiff by this particular consultant neurologist was a reasonable one; that, notwithstanding the matters that have been developed in argument, the plaintiff was unreasonable in refusing to submit himself to examination and that there is, in the matters that have been adduced to this court, no indication that justice to the plaintiff is liable to be imperilled if this doctor examines him, reports and ultimately gives evidence.”
  3. At p 75H, Geoffrey Lane LJ said:
    1. “…the defendants are not lightly to be deprived of the right to have the medical examination carried out by the doctor who, they are advised, would be the best doctor in the circumstances to carry out that examination.”
  4. Cairns LJ said much the same at p 77C.

 

It is a damn clever argument, and ’nuff respeck to whoever at Croydon came up with it. Essentially, relying on these Starr principles to say “If we are having to defend a case, but the person bringing it refuses to cooperate with assessments that we reasonably ask him to participate in, the case should be thrown out”

The Tribunal disagreed, and hence Croydon went to the Court of Appeal.

 

The decision at first instance

 

  1. The application was refused by UT Judge McGeachy on 8 December. He gave a short ex tempore judgment which included the following:
    1. “My decision is this. Although I have some considerable sympathy with the application made and I think it is most unfortunate that the applicant’s representatives have come to the conclusion that they will not cooperate I consider that the order sought is too draconian for me to either stay the proceedings or to dismiss the proceedings at this stage.

2. I consider that the fact that the applicant’s representatives have decided that he should not cooperate with a dental examination, which I consider might well have been useful, let alone the further age assessment to be carried out by Croydon is a matter on which it may well be that you would wish to address me at the hearing. I presume that is what you would want to do but I am not prepared to bring the proceedings to a halt now.”

  1. Further light is shed on the judge’s thinking by his decision of 16 December in which he explained why he refused permission to appeal to this court. He said:
    1. “(2) The grounds of appeal assert that I had failed to give reasons for not granting the application given the terms of the judgment in Starr v NCB [1977] 1 WLR 63. In my oral judgment I gave reasons for my decision. While I did not specifically refer to the judgment in Starr the reality is that that case can be distinguished from the present. It is of note that in Starr it had been conceded that it was necessary for the defendants, in preparing their defence to have the opinion of a consultant neurologist who had had the opportunity of examining the plaintiff. That is different from a case such as the present in which there is a challenge to a decision which has already been made. Moreover, while the case in Starr was a private law matter this is an action in public law where there is a public interest in the efficient disposal of the application, particularly as it relates to the age of the applicant who claims to be a child.

(3) I was entitled to take into account the efficient disposal of that application and that is why I stated that staying the proceedings at this stage was a decision which was too draconian: staying the proceedings would not resolve the issue before me. Given that the matter was to proceed to trial at the beginning of February 2016 it was appropriate that satellite litigation should be discouraged.

(4) I consider that my decision was an appropriate use of my case management powers in that it is a clear aim of those powers to ensure the efficient disposal of an application.”

The grounds of appeal

  1. Mr Holbrook submits that the judge erred in holding that the Starr principles did not apply in respect of Y’s refusal to consent to (i) an age assessment by two social workers employed by Croydon, (ii) a dental age assessment by Professor Roberts and (iii) a psychiatric assessment by Dr Tony Davies. He should have held that the Starr principles did apply and that, on a proper application of them, he should have acceded to Croydon’s application to stay or strike out Y’s claim unless he consented to each of the three assessments sought.

 

The Court of Appeal concluded that the Starr principles DID apply  (this was something of a shock to me when I was reading the case, though not an unpleasant shock) and that thus the appeal must succeed

 

Discussion

  1. It is unclear whether the judge addressed the Starr principles or not. It would have been surprising if he had not considered them, because they had been the subject of full argument before him. Paras 1 and 2 of the judgment might suggest that he accepted that they did apply, but that he was not willing in the exercise of his discretion to strike out the claim or order a stay because such a remedy was too “draconian” or in modern parlance “disproportionate”. On the other hand, in his reasons for refusing permission to appeal, he sought to distinguish Starr on the grounds that (i) it had been conceded in Starr that it was necessary for the defendant to have the opinion of a consultant neurologist who had had the opportunity of examining the plaintiff; and (ii) Starr was a private law claim, whereas the present claim was a public law claim.
  2. On balance, I incline to the view that the judge did address the Starr principles, but held that they did not apply for the three reasons that he identified when refusing permission to appeal. First, in Starr the plaintiff had conceded that it was necessary for the defence to have the opportunity for their expert to examine the plaintiff. Secondly, Starr was a private law claim, whereas the present case concerned a public law claim. Thirdly, refusal of Croydon’s application was an appropriate use of his case management powers to ensure the efficient disposal of the application.
  3. I would reject these reasons and substantially accept the submissions advanced by Mr Holbrook. As regards the first reason, the fact that the plaintiff in Starr conceded that it was necessary for the defendant to be advised by a consultant neurologist who had had the opportunity of examining the plaintiff was not essential to the reasoning of the court. The concession meant that the court could proceed on the basis that the medical examination was necessary for the proper conduct of the defence. If that had not been conceded, the court would have had to decide for itself whether the examination was necessary. The concession is a basis for distinguishing Starr from the present case on the facts. It cannot, however, be a reason for holding that the Starr principles only apply where there is such a concession. In the absence of such a concession in the present case, the judge had to decide whether all or any of the three examinations sought were reasonably necessary for the proper conduct of Croydon’s defence. It would seem that the judge was probably satisfied that the dental examination and the examination by the two social workers were reasonably necessary because he said in his judgment that he had “considerable sympathy with the application”; he thought that it was “most unfortunate that [Y’s] representatives have come to the conclusion that they will not cooperate”; and he considered that a dental examination “might well have been useful, let alone the further age assessment to be carried out by Croydon”.
  4. As regards the second reason, there is no basis in principle for confining the Starr principles to private law litigation. I accept that there are important differences between private and public law litigation. These differences are, for example, recognised by the fact that they are subject to different procedural regimes. In most judicial review litigation, the court does not hear oral evidence or make findings on disputed questions of fact. That is why there is little scope for the application of the Starr principles in public law cases. But in judicial review claims where the court does hear oral evidence and is required to make findings of fact, there is no reason in principle why Starr should not be applied in an appropriate case. The fundamental common law right of a defendant to defend itself in litigation to which Scarman LJ referred applies in any litigation. In a case where one party wishes to have an examination of the other party, the other fundamental common law principle identified by Scarman LJ comes into play. That is so whether the case involves a private law or a public law claim. Although the age assessment issue in the present case arises in judicial review proceedings, it is common ground that the issue is one of fact for the court to determine on the evidence adduced before it: see R (A) v Croydon London Borough Council [2009] UKSC 8, [2009] 1 WLR 2537. It follows that there is no reason to hold that the Starr principles do not apply merely because the issue arises in public law proceedings.
  5. The third reason is quite difficult to pin down. Mr Berry makes much of the point that this was a case management decision involving an exercise of discretion in respect of which this court should allow the judge a generous ambit: see, for example, Royal and Sun Alliance v T & N Ltd [2002] EWCA Civ 1964 at para 38 per Chadwick LJ and Walbrook Trust (Jersey) Ltd v Fattal [2008] EWCA Civ 427 at para 33 per Lawrence Collins LJ.

 

Given what is said here, the door is at least ajar for people arguing that the Starr principles that a person is entitled to insist on another party being assessed by an expert of their choice should apply to private law family cases, where two parents are arguing about who is suitable to look after their child and how much time the child should spend with the other. I think that it is more of a stretch for care proceedings (the Local Authority, who want the parent to undertake an assessment, are the applicant, not the defendant)

This part of the Starr principles though, I can see being deployed

 

The second is an equally fundamental right, namely the defendant’s right to defend itself as it and its advisers think fit, including the freedom to choose the witnesses that it will call. It is particularly important that a defendant should be able to choose its own expert witnesses, if the case is one in which expert testimony is significant.

 

Not perhaps so much with whether there should be an expert assessment at all, since that is rather covered by the Children and Families Act 2014 which sets out the ‘necessary to resolve the proceedings justly’ test, and Starr as case law can’t override later statute. But in a case where a Local Authority want the father to be assessed by Dr Leighton Buzzard, and the father would prefer Dr Ashby De-la-Zouch, then Starr (and this case) might be usefully deployed. The strong suggestion is that the witness should be of the defendant’s own choosing.

 

[I can also immediately sense that Ian from Forced Adoption will be wanting to deploy Starr and this case to say that a parent should be entitled to call evidence at a final hearing from whatever witnesses they choose – usually character witnesses, and it will be interesting to see how the Courts deal with that sort of argument]

Many of you who are familiar with age assessment cases are pondering the use of dental X-rays, which are pretty controversial in age assessment determination (in terms of reliability, efficacy and ethics of undertaking an X-ray when there is nothing medically wrong with a person for purely forensic purposes many dentists are unhappy about it). The Court of Appeal acknowledged those issues, but concluded that it wasn’t a reason for refusing to undertake the assessment.

it is said that the method of assessing age using mean data taken from dental x-rays is controversial and unreliable. But it is impossible for the court to reach a conclusion on whether this is correct or not. In my view, it cannot be a reason for refusing the order. No doubt, the reliability of the assessment based on dental x-rays will be investigated at the hearing.

 

 

Advertisements

adoption of an 18 year old

 

Re B (2014)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/1284.html

 

The Court were faced with an application by a couple to adopt a boy who was, by the time of judgment 18. The application was issued when he was 17, so the Court had jurisdiction at the time of the application (it took nearly a year to resolve)

There were two reasons why it took so long to resolve.

 

1. The immigration status of B himself.  And in particular the Home Office’s “deafening silence” in relation to any attempts to engage them

 

2. The need for an age determination of B, since some of the documentation suggested that he might actually be 26, which would have taken him outside of the Court’s jurisdiction to make an adoption order.

 

  • a 30-page letter sent to the Home Office dated 12th May 2011. This letter set out a detailed account of the background circumstances and effectively asked for a reconsideration of the previous refusal in August 2010. It also asked for leave for B to remain here on compassionate grounds, as set out in some detail in that letter.

 

 

 

 

  • That letter was sent to the Home Office on 12th May 2011. Here we are nearly three years later, and despite chasing letters being sent to the Home Office by Mr. O on 17th November 2011, 29th November 2011, 16th January 2012, 20th February 2012, 11th June 2012, 5th November 2012 and 23rd August 2013, not one response or acknowledgement has been received from the Home Office regarding that application.

 

 

 

 

  • This morning I was shown a letter from Capita (who appear to be instructed on behalf of the Home Office) to O Solicitors dated 28th March 2014. It says as follows:

 

 

 

“Thank you for your request dated 23rd May 2011 asking for reconsideration of the decision to refuse your client’s application for leave to remain. I apologise for the delay in responding to your client’s letter. We are in the process of reviewing your client’s request for reconsideration and would be grateful if your client could complete the attached form to provide us with an update to your client’s current circumstances. This information will assist in assessing whether your client’s case is eligible for reconsideration.”

A Capita form is attached which is about five or six pages long. The letter continues:

 

“Please return the form in the prepaid envelope within 14 days from the date of this letter. If we do not receive the returned form within this timeframe, your client’s reconsideration request will be assessed on the information provided at the time of the request or in which it is held on Home Office records.”

It is then signed, “Yours faithfully, Capita Business Services”. The letter is not signed by any individual. It is a pro forma letter. That is the updated position regarding the immigration application.

 

 

[I am REALLY looking forward to working for Capita, once care proceedings are privatised]

 

  • Turning back to the procedural history, the matter was listed on 2nd October, again before District Judge Simmonds. He records in order that it appeared to the court that three matters were outstanding, one of which is the reply from the Home Office. Paragraph 1 of that order, “The court shall forthwith chase the Home Office for a response to whether they wish to intervene and for them to send this to the court forthwith”. In paragraph 2 it states “The court shall forward to the parties any response from the Home Office on receipt”. The matter was listed again for final hearing on 28th October 2013.

 

 

 

 

  • In the intervening period between 2nd October and the end of October, enquiries were made by the court to see whether there had been any response from the Home Office but none had been received. On 25th October, the court advised the parties the hearing on 28th October was vacated due to an issue with the Home Office.

 

 

 

 

  • On 25th October an order made by District Judge Simmonds states as follows:

 

 

 

“Upon the adoption office having contact with the Home Office, as no reply had been received from the court’s enquiries, and upon the Home Office confirming that B has no right to stay in the United Kingdom and has his own case worker and they are awaiting information from the case worker before replying. And upon the court adjourning the hearing for this information to be provided.”

 

 

  • The court directed the 28th October final hearing was vacated and the time for the Home Office to provide a response as to whether they wished to intervene within the proceedings was extended to 22nd November. The ordered provided that in the event the Home Office did not reply by 22nd November, the court shall proceed with the application on the basis that they do not wish to intervene. The matter was listed again before District Judge Simmonds on 29th November.

 

 

 

 

  • On 28th November the court telephoned B’s solicitor to advise that some documents had been received from the Home Office. This meant the final hearing that was then listed on 29th November 2013 may not be effective. At the hearing on 29th November a statement with exhibits from Mr. S of the Home Office was before the court and was shown to the parties. Mr S is a Higher Executive Officer with responsibility for the custody of Home Office records. The statement raised issues regarding the date of birth for B together with issues regarding different birth certificates and their authenticity. As a result of that material being put before District Judge Simmonds, he transferred the matter to the High Court and it was listed for hearing before me on 16th January.

 

 

 

 

  • Pending that hearing District Judge Simmonds made a number of directions. He directed B to file and serve a statement in reply to the statement from the Home Office by 10th January 2014. He also directed:

 

 

“This order shall be forwarded to the Home Office and they are invited to attend the hearing at para.1, namely 16th January 2014, to assist the court and to make any application to intervene in the proceedings on or before that date.”

 

 

  • Immediately following that hearing on 29th November B’s solicitor advised the Home Office of the hearing and forwarded them a copy of the order advising them of the date of the hearing on 16th January. On checking with the court, subsequently it was found that the court, too, had sent a copy of the order of 29th November to the Home Office. No response was received either by B’s solicitor or by the court from the Home Office.

 

 

 

 

  • The matter first came before me on 16th January. Having considered the papers, in particular B’s witness statement of 9th January, I made the following recitals:

 

 

“The Home Office, having failed to indicate whether it wished to intervene in these adoption proceedings by today’s date as ordered by District Judge Simmonds on 29th November, and upon the court indicating that it intends to make a declaration in relation to B’s age, and upon the court making a court request for information to the Home Office as specified in the form EX660 of today’s date, and upon the court inviting B’s current immigration solicitors to provide the solicitors for the guardian with copies of the documents and his immigration file by 23rd January…”

 

I made an order that included the following:

 

“1. The solicitor for the guardian do forthwith serve a copy of this order and a copy of B’s witness statement dated 9th January (along with its exhibits) on the Secretary of State for the Home Department via the Home Office liaison team at HMCTS.”

2. That the Home Office do notify the guardian’s solicitors by 14th February whether it intends to apply to intervene in these adoption proceedings, and if it does, to issue such an application by 4 p.m. on 17th February.

3. In the event that such an application is issued, there is to be a directions hearing listed before me on 25th February to consider any directions that need to be made as a result of such an application with a time estimate of 30 minutes.”

 

 

  • I made provision that if the application to intervene was not made, the hearing on 25 February could be vacated. I listed the matter for a substantive hearing on 6th March with a time estimate of one day to consider (and this was recorded on the face of the order) (1) whether to make a declaration in relation to B’s age, and (2) to decide whether to make an adoption order in relation to B. I made directions for the filing of further evidence, both by the applicants and by B, and I made provision, if the Guardian was so advised, to file any further report. I made directions for the filing of skeleton arguments.

 

 

 

 

  • That order was sent to the Home Office by B’s solicitor. The solicitor phoned the Home Office liaison team on 20th January to check what the correct address was. They were told that the information, the EX660 and the order should only be served by fax. They sent an unsealed copy of the order I had made on 16th January by fax to the Home Office on 20th January. On 26th January they sent the sealed copy of the order by fax to the Home Office. They also sent the EX660 to the Home Office so they were aware of what was required.

 

 

 

 

  • B’s solicitors corresponded with the court on two occasions to see whether the court had heard anything from the Home Office. They vacated the hearing on 6th March because details had not been obtained from the Home Office in response to the EX660 and re-listed the matter for today. They informed the Home Office of this revised timetable. They finally contacted the Home Office on 26th March. They faxed the Home Office a letter asking if they were going to respond to the EX660 or to any of the directions that had been made by the court. No response has been received from the Home Office.

 

 

 

 

  • It is quite clear the Home Office has been given every opportunity to participate and engage in these proceedings, not only through the efforts of the court but also by the solicitor for B.

 

 

 

 

  • In accordance with my directions made on 16th January, both B and the applicants have prepared further statements that have been filed and I have read them.

 

 

 

 

  • The only updated information is the letter referred to above from Capita on behalf of the Home Office asking for a form to be completed in relation to B’s application for reconsideration of the refusal of his application for leave to remain. As I have indicated, that is against a background (as far as I am able to understand because the Home Office has not responded to the EX660) that B arrived here in early 2008 on what appears to have been a six month visa which was not renewed. Mr. and Mrs A sought to regularise his position by their application in April 2010. That was acknowledged on 17th May 2010 when there was a request to the former immigration solicitors by the Home Office for a form and a method of entry questionnaire to be completed. This was completed and returned.

 

 

 

 

  • As I have indicated, that application was determined in August 2010. The only information I have in relation to that is the way the reasons for refusal are summarised in the letter from the immigration solicitors to the UKBA on 12th May 2011. At p.2 of that letter they set out the basis of their refusal, effectively rejecting that any Article 8 rights had been established in favour of B to enable him to stay here.

 

 

 

 

  • It is of note on the information I have about the process that took place in 2010, it appears at no stage was any issue raised in relation to B’s age. New solicitors were instructed in early 2011 and they made the application in May 2011. Despite the chasing letters listed above and nearly three years having passed since that application was made, no response was received until the letter from Capita on behalf of the Home Office on 28th March. It appears to be accepted by the Home Office, that the application in May 2011 was for a reconsideration of the refusal of B’s leave to be able to remain here.

 

 

Against that background, it is not surprising that the Court eventually decided that they were unlikely to get any joy out of the Home Office  (in A J Herbert’s lovely phrase the parties had been engaged in “frequent although one-sided correspondence”)  and turned their attention to a forensic exercise of whether blood could be extracted from a stone, as that was more likely to be productive…

 

 

  • I am quite satisfied this application is not a device, by any stretch of the imagination, to gain a right of abode. Mr. and Mrs. A have responsibly taken all necessary steps at each stage to seek to regularise the position regarding their care of B. They fully cooperated with the private fostering assessment that was prompted by their application regarding B’s immigration position. They then promptly and responsibly applied for a residence order, which was made by the court. As I have said, they have subsequently assisted in supporting applications to regularise B’s immigration position. They could not have done any more.

 

 

 

 

  • I am satisfied the applicants, the solicitor for B and the court could not have done more to seek to engage the Home Office in these proceedings; but they simply have not responded. I am quite clear this application cannot be delayed any further. I am, of course, acutely aware that if the court does go on to grant an adoption order, it confers nationality, but I can see no more the court could have done to seek to engage the Home Office in these proceedings.

 

 

 

 

  • It is of particular concern there appears to have been a complete failure to comply with what, in my experience, has always been an effective procedure for this court to obtain relevant immigration information, namely through the EX660 procedure. It is normally expected that that request will be responded to within 28 days. My recent experience in other cases is that the response is normally well within that time frame. In this case the EX660 request is now 63 days old. I sincerely hope this is an isolated occasion where there has been non-compliance with the request made by the court, but I will take steps to ensure that the circumstances of this case are drawn to the attention of the Home Office.

 

 

 

 

  • I am quite clear this application, in the particular circumstances of this case, should proceed and there should be no further delay.

 

 

The age issue

 

  • The next issue the court has to consider is B’s age. One of the matters that raised by the statement from Mr. S is B’s date of birth. It is raised in an unhelpful way because the statement has been provided and the issue raised, but the Home Office have been unwilling to participate in the case to assist the court further.

 

 

 

 

  • What is said or implied by the statement from Mr. S is that when B was brought to this jurisdiction in January 2008, it was on a passport that gave a different date of birth, namely 17th September 1987. This would make B 20 years of age when he arrived in 2008 and would make him 26 ½ years of age now.

 

 

 

 

  • With the application made by Mr. and Mrs. A, they submitted birth certificates setting out his date of birth as 17th September 1995. As far as I can see in all steps they have taken in relation to B, not only in relation to his immigration position but in all other aspects of his life, they have operated on the basis that this is his date of birth. That would have made B about 12 ½ years of age when he came to this jurisdiction in early 2008.

 

 

 

 

  • I consider it important the court should determine this issue with. It has to for two reasons.

 

 

 

 

  • Firstly, to determine whether the court has jurisdiction to be able to consider this application because, by virtue of s.49(4) ACA 2002 an application for an adoption order may only be made if the person to be adopted has not attained the age of 18 years on the date of the application.

 

 

 

 

  • The application was made on 1st June 2013. If B’s date of birth is 17th September 1987, he was clearly over 18 at that time. However, if his date of birth was 17th September 1995, he was under 18 at the time when the application was issued and so the court has jurisdiction. In addition, the court would only have power to make an adoption order pursuant to s.47(9) in relation to a person who has not attained the age of 19 years. Clearly, that would be the position if B’s date of birth was in 1995, but it would not if his date of birth was in 1987.

 

 

 

 

  • Secondly, I consider it an important and integral aspect of B’s welfare for the uncertainty that has been raised in relation to his age to be resolved.

 

 

 

It is established law that the Court can make a factual determination following their own assessment of the age of a young person (that chiefly flows from the case law about unaccompanied asylum seekers, where they are entitled to certain services if they are under 18 and thus from time to time the Local Authority is placed in a position of deciding whether someone who appears to be much older is really a child). The Court took a variety of factors into account

 

  • Having considered all the evidence from these different sources I am satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that B’s date of birth was 17th September 1995 and, as a result, he was 17 years of age when this application was issued and this court consequently has jurisdiction.

 

 

 

 

  • On the information that I have seen it is inconceivable that B would have been able to live a life if he was eight years older than he is. This is particularly bearing in mind that he has been attending school and college, and been exposed to the various agencies, particularly the local authority, through the reports that have been prepared in relation to B’s care and placement with Mr. and Mrs. A, without somebody questioning or raising such a significant issue regarding his age.

 

 

 

 

  • Whilst I acknowledge the question of growth in height is not determinative, in the context of this case it is an important part of the evidential picture. Particularly when looking at the alternative age which during the relevant period he would have been between 22 and 25. It is highly unlikely, in my judgment, that there would have been a growth of 20cm in height between those ages, and it is much more likely that that growth in height would have taken place between the ages of 15 and 17.

 

 

 

 

  • I have no reason to doubt the account give by Mr and Mrs A regarding B’s age. They have boys of their own, some of whom are young adults. They have had his care for over five years and have seen nothing to suggest he is 7 years older than they have understood he is.

 

 

 

 

  • In reaching my conclusion, I have also taken into account that it is likely that the person who brought B over to this jurisdiction from Nigeria probably had an incentive for B to be an adult rather than a minor. This is due to the circumstances in which he was brought here and the circumstances that he has described during the period of time that he was living with uncle Femi between early 2008 and early 2009.

 

 

 

 

  • For those reasons I will make a declaration in relation to B’s age, being satisfied as I am on the balance of probabilities that he was born on 17 September 1995.

 

 

 

The Court then went on to consider the adoption application itself, having satisfied itself that the Court had jurisdiction to make the order.  Those reasons are not terribly interesting or important in themselves, but it is the second example of the High Court treating certain types of adoption as being different in character to the non-consensual or forced adoption that are tied up with the “nothing else will do” and Re B-S principles  (the first being the step-parent adoption case). That may be of interest in the as yet unanswered question about whether Re B-S applies to adoptions where the mother has relinquished the child.

 

The Court did, of course, make the order

 

Having carefully considered the matters in the welfare checklist I am satisfied B’s lifelong welfare need, which are the court’s paramount consideration, can only be met by the security and stability that an adoption order will bring. Only an adoption order will secure lifelong his relationship with Mr. and Mrs. A.

Do you think I was born yesterday?

 

 

 

A headlong rush through some of the key authorities on establishing whether a young person is young enough to receive services from a Local Authority

These cases chiefly involve unaccompanied asylum seekers, because they are a debate about whether the young person in question is under eighteen at the time they present to a Local Authority requesting either support under section 17 of the Children Act or accommodation under section 20 of the Act, AND there being a dispute about whether the young person is under 18 or over 18  – UK or European nationals tend to have documentation which will establish that age beyond doubt, whereas it is common practice for unaccompanied asylum-seekers to either not have such documentation, or to have destroyed it (in order to make it harder to establish where they should be sent back to)

Sadly for anyone trying to remember these cases, nearly all of the case names involve Croydon   (alternatively, if one is trying to bluff their way through a conversation about age-assessment cases, saying “of course, the Croydon case deals with this point” is a sensible tactic)

Our starting point is with R (on the application of B) v MERTON LONDON BOROUGH COUNCIL (2003)

[2003] EWHC 1689 (Admin)

QBD (Admin) (Stanley Burnton J) 14/07/2003

Which creates for us the eponymous “Merton” assessment,  and the Court indicating that there had to be a solid evidence-based and documented assessment by the Local Authority of how they had calculated the age of the young person, and what factors they had taken into account

HELD: (1) Where it was obvious that a person was under or over 18 years old there would normally be no need for an extended inquiry into their age. However, where, as in B’s case, a UASC could not provide any reliable documentary evidence to support his claim to be a minor, the determination of his age depended on the credibility of the history given, his physical appearance and his behaviour, factors which all interconnected. There was no statutory procedure or guidance issued to local authorities as to how to conduct an assessment of the age of a person claiming to be under 18 for the purpose of deciding on the applicability of Part III of the 1989 Act. Nor was there any reliable scientific test to determine whether a person was over or under 18. (2) It would be naive to assume that a UASC was unaware of the advantages of being classified as a child. A lack of travel documentation, including a passport, may justify suspicion, particularly where he claimed to have entered the country overtly in circumstances, for example through an airport, where a passport would be required. The matter could be determined informally, provided that minimum standards of inquiry and fairness were ensured. The decision-maker had to seek to elicit the general background of the UASC, including his family circumstances, his educational background and his history during the previous few years. Ethnic and cultural material might be important. A decision-maker would have to ask questions to assess a UASC’s credibility where there was reason to doubt it. It was not useful to apply notions of a burden of proof to the assessment. (3) A local authority’s social services department should not merely adopt a decision made by the Home Office, although it could take into account information obtained by the Home Office. (4) Merton had made its own assessment as to B’s age and not solely relied on the Home Office’s stance. The decision-maker’s reasons were inconsistent with the decision letter. However, it was permissible for the court to consider those reasons (Nash v Chelsea College of Art & Design (2001) EWHC 538). The evidence before the court represented the true basis of the decision and those reasons were adequate. A UASC was entitled to know the true reasons for an age assessment decision so that he could make an informed decision on whether to ask a local authority to review the decision or to make a complaint. The reasons did not need to be long or elaborate: it would have sufficed for the decision-maker to inform B that the decision was based on his appearance and behaviour and on the inconsistencies in his history which had made the decision-maker doubt his credibility. (5) The court should not impose unrealistic and unnecessary burdens on those required to make decisions such as this. Some cases would require more inquiry than others. The court should not be predisposed to assume that the decision-maker had acted unreasonably or carelessly or unfairly: it was for a claimant to establish that a decision-maker had so acted. It was not necessary to obtain a medical report. Nor was it necessary for a local authority to support a UASC for a period of days or weeks to give others an opportunity to observe him, if the information available was sufficient for a decision about his age to be made. It was greatly preferable for an interpreter to be physically present in an interview. Verbatim notes of an interview were also useful, although not essential as a matter of law. Such notes did not have to be counter-signed by a UASC. Procedural fairness required that a decision-maker explain the purpose of the interview to a UASC. (6) If a decision-maker formed the preliminary view that a UASC was lying about his age, he had to be given an opportunity to address the issues that led to that view (R (on the application of Q) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (2003) EWCA Civ 364). The decision-maker had failed to give B such an opportunity. Merton failed to establish that B’s responses could not have reasonably altered the decision. There was not a suitable alternative procedure for B to challenge the decision: there was no evidence about Merton’s complaints procedure; moreover, any complaint under s.26 of the 1989 Act would have been too slow for a child without accommodation or support. Therefore Merton’s decision had to be set aside and Merton had to reassess B’s age.

I note, with grim interest, this part of the Merton decision… “The court should not impose unrealistic and unnecessary burdens on those required to make decisions such as this” sadly, this is a custom more honoured in the breach than the observance.

There were other cases prior to Merton, but this was the big one, where the Courts made a solid attempt to get to grip with the issue of young persons asking for services and Local Authorities refusing on the basis that they appeared to be older than the group who were entitled to such services.

If the Courts felt that Merton  (do a good Merton assessment, make your decision, and it won’t be judicially reviewed) would put an end to the flood of judicial review challenges, on age assessments, they were sadly wrong.

There was litigation about medical evidence, about whether medical evidence was of any use at all, about whether the Local Authority had given enough weight to the medical evidence even though it was fundamentally not of assistance (there being finally acceptance that when deciding if a young person is 17 or 19, a medical test that is only accurate to within 2 years doesn’t help  – if one ever needs to argue this, R v Croydon –of course, helps R (on the application of R) v CROYDON LONDON BOROUGH COUNCIL (2011)[2011] EWHC 1473 (Admin) QBD (Admin) (Kenneth Parker J) 14/06/2011), and every single inch of the Merton assessments as lawyers nobly representing young persons sought to establish that the LA decision not to provide their client with services was “Wednesbury unreasonable”

There then came the decision of the Supreme Court, which knocked on the head any talk of ‘unreasonableness’ and judicial review, and determined that if there was a dispute between the LA and the young person about their age, this was a decision to be made by the Court.   (This had the, one hopes, inadvertent effect of massively expanding the number of potential cases, since one no longer had to show the Court that there was reason to believe the LA had been unreasonable in their age assessment, but just that the young person disagreed with it)

R (on the application of A) v LONDON BOROUGH OF CROYDON (Respondent) & (1) SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (2) CHILDREN’S COMMISSIONER (Interveners) : R (on the application of M) v LONDON BOROUGH OF LAMBETH (Respondent) & (1) SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (2) CHILDREN’S COMMISSIONER (Interveners) (2009)

HELD: (1) In s.17(10) a clear distinction was drawn between whether a person was a “child” and whether that child should be “taken to be” in need within the meaning of the Act. That suggested that they were two different kinds of question. “Taken to be” imported an element of judgment which Parliament may well have intended to be left to the local authority rather than the courts. But the word “child” was undoubtedly defined in wholly objective terms, however hard it might be to decide upon the facts of the particular case. It admitted only one answer. As stated by Scarman L; where the exercise of an executive power depended upon the precedent establishment of an objective fact, the courts would decide whether the requirement had been satisfied, R. v Secretary of State for the Home Department Ex p. Khawaja [1984] A.C. 74 considered. Whether a person was a child for the purposes of s.20(1) was therefore a question of fact which must ultimately be decided by the court. (2) (Obiter) Those conclusions made it unnecessary to come to any firm view on the application of art.6 to decisions under s.20(1) of the Act. The House of Lords in Begum v Tower Hamlets LBC [2003] UKHL 5, [2003] 2 A.C. 430 had been content to assume, without deciding, that a claim for suitable accommodation under the homeless provisions of the Housing Act 1996 was a civil right, but no Strasbourg case had yet gone so far, Begum considered. In the instant case, the court was reluctant to accept, unless driven by Strasbourg authority to do so, that art.6 required the judicialisation of claims to welfare services of the kind in M and X’s case. If the right to accommodation under s.20(1) was a civil right at all, it rested at the periphery of such rights and the present decision-making processes, coupled with judicial review on conventional grounds, were adequate to result in a fair determination within the meaning of art.6, Tsfayo v United Kingdom (Admissibility) (60860/00) (2004) 39 E.H.R.R. SE22 considered.

[It is worth noting that the Supreme Court also went on to determine that a person seeking a challenge to the LA about accommodating them did not trigger article 6 of the Human Rights Act – at the time, this was probably academic, but now that the free legal advice provisions that enabled all of this litigation to be brought may vanish, it becomes more relevant. ]

It is settled law that when approaching this task, the Court is not bound by any decision of other tribunals as to their resolution of age-assessment conflict, though they may take them into account

R (on the application of PM) v HERTFORDSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL (2010)

[2010] EWHC 2056 (Admin)

QBD (Admin) (Hickinbottom J) 04/08/2010

A local authority assessing the age of a young asylum seeker was not bound by an age assessment that the First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) had made while hearing the asylum seeker’s asylum appeal.

The approach to be followed

 

Mr Justice Holman was the first judge to really grapple and set some guidance for the brave new world of Judges no longer just deciding whether the LA had behaved unreasonably, but actually deciding how old the young person in question was.  [Note that Mr Justice Holman ruled that the medical evidence was admissible into the fact-finding hearing, notwithstanding the earlier criticisms of it in the Croydon case referred to above, and also that he considered the cases to still run on a judicial review model, with permission being required]

R (on the application of F) v LEWISHAM LBC : R (on the application of D) (Claimant) v MANCHESTER CITY COUNCIL (Defendant) & SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Interested Party) : R (on the application of Z) v GREENWICH LBC : R (on the application of C) v CROYDON LBC : R (on the application of S) v SOUTHWARK LBC (2009)

[2009] EWHC 3542 (Admin)

QBD (Admin) (Holman J) 17/12/2009

HELD: (1) The approach to disputed age cases had been clarified by the Supreme Court. There still had to be an assessment by the local authority; judicial review was the appropriate mechanism and remedy for any challenge to that assessment and on any judicial review the essential issue was one of pure fact for the court, Lambeth LBC followed. The instant cases would be listed for a fact-finding hearing to determine whether, on the relevant date, C were children and if so, their date of birth. Once the court was required to engage on determination of whether a person was, on the relevant date, a child, it had to go on to make its own determination as to actual age or date of birth. (2) Proceedings such as the instant cases remained firmly proceedings for judicial review. Accordingly, permission was required before the claim could proceed. The relevant test for the grant of permission where the person had been assessed as over 18 years of age on the relevant date was whether there was a realistic prospect that at a substantive fact-finding hearing the court would reach a relevant conclusion that the person was of a younger age than that assessed by the local authority and was on the relevant date a child. Where a local authority had assessed the person as under 18 years of age on the relevant date, the test was whether there was a realistic prospect that the court would conclude that the person was of a younger age than that assessment. (3) The standard of proof in all such cases was the ordinary civil standard of the balance of probability. As to the question of where the evidential burden lay, that was entirely a matter for the judge at a final hearing and might depend on the facts and circumstances of individual cases. (4) If local authorities wished to defend cases by reliance on assessments of their social workers, then they had to produce those social workers for cross-examination if required. (5) Fact-finding hearings could not ordinarily take place without some involvement of the claimant and the engagement of the claimant with the court as, in most if not all cases, there was some issue as to the credibility of the claimant and the account that he or she had given regarding their history. However, the extent to which, and manner in which, a claimant participated or gave evidence was quintessentially a matter for the judge. (6) A major issue in such cases had been whether a decision of the local authority not to take into account medical evidence rendered the underlying decision regarding age assessment vulnerable to judicial review. There was nothing in the judgment of Collins J to indicate that such medical evidence was so unreliable or so unhelpful that it could simply be ignored altogether. The evolution of the approach to be taken indicated that such medical reports could not be disregarded by local authorities or by the court, Croydon LBC considered. Therefore, in the instant cases in which there was already such evidence, that evidence could be admitted into the proceedings and relied on.

Mr Justice Garnham QC developed this practical guidance further, in that the Court was not obliged to nail their colours to the mast on a firm date of birth, but rather to assess what was the most likely of a range of dates proferred.

R (on the application of N) v CROYDON LONDON BOROUGH COUNCIL (2011)

[2011] EWHC 862 (Admin)

QBD (Admin) (Neil Garnham QC) 16/03/2011

HELD: (1) A declaration as to a person’s date of birth could not be granted as a matter of course, especially in circumstances such as in the instant case where the declaration had potential effects on third parties who were not before the court, including the Home Office. Such a declaration would only be appropriate after careful consideration of the evidence. A court had to exercise an original jurisdiction and determine the precedent fact of whether the claimant was a child, and if so, his date of birth, for which the standard of proof was the ordinary civil standard of a balanced probability, R. (on the application of A) v Croydon LBC [2009] UKSC 8, [2009] 1 W.L.R. 2557 followed and R. (on the application of F) v Lewisham LBC [2009] EWHC 3542 (Admin), [2010] 1 F.L.R. 1463 applied. A court faced with such a question was not considering whether it had been shown on the balance of probabilities that a particular date was the true date of birth, but making an assessment of the most likely date of birth after comparing a wide potential range of dates, MC v Liverpool City Council [2010] EWHC 2211 (Admin), [2011] 1 F.L.R. 728 applied. Where all other factors were equal, the date might well be the middle of the appropriate range, because proximity to error increased towards the extreme ends of the range (see paras 2-5, 9, 35 of judgment).

Burden of proof

There had been some debate about whether the burden of proof was on the young person (since they were claiming to be a child and entitled to services) or the Local Authority (since they were claiming that the young person in question was not entitled to the services)

The Court of Appeal determined last year in R (on the application of CJ (BY HIS LITIGATION FRIEND SW)) v CARDIFF COUNTY COUNCIL (2011)

[2011] EWCA Civ 1590   that the burden of proof was not on the young person to prove that they were under 18, reversing the decision that had been made in the High Court on the same case.

The High Court’s supervision of the exercise of jurisdiction by an inferior court, tribunal or public body was not an issue which could be resolved according to the private interests of the parties. The nature of the court’s inquiry under the 1989 Act was inquisitorial and to speak in terms of a burden of establishing a precedent or jurisdictional fact was inappropriate. Once the court was invited to make a decision on jurisdictional fact, it could do no more than apply the balance of probability to the issue. A distinction needed to be made between a legal burden of proof and the sympathetic assessment of evidence. In evaluating the evidence it might well be appropriate to expect conclusive evidence from a claimant but the nature of the evaluation would depend on the particular facts of the case. Where a range of powers and duties which were exercisable dependent on the age of an individual were raised in the same proceedings, it would be highly undesirable for contradictory findings to be made as to the existence of the precedent fact. The nature of the inquiry in which the court would be engaged was itself a strong reason for departure from the common law rule which applied a burden on one or other of the parties. The court, in its inquisitorial role, had to ask whether the precedent fact existed on a balance of probability

.

[It is worth noting, however, that in the particular case, notwithstanding that the young person did not have to prove that he was under 18, the Court of Appeal agreed with the conclusion of the High Court that the young person was in fact over 18 and thus not entitled to the services he was seeking. ]

On burden of proof – the Courts have also ruled that the issue of burden of proof should only arise where the matter is so finely balanced that it was only this that would tip the balance

R (on the application of U) v CROYDON LONDON BOROUGH COUNCIL (2011)

[2011] EWHC 3312 (Admin)

QBD (Admin) (Judge David Pearl) 14/12/2011

HELD: When considering an age-assessment case, a judge had first to examine all of the evidence that had been presented and try to arrive at an assessment of the person’s age. Only if it was a close decision would it be necessary to resort to the burden of proof,

Is the judgment on age assessment confined to the Children Act proceedings, or broader?

 

In R (on the application of MWA) v (1) SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (2) BIRMINGHAM CITY COUNCIL (2011)

[2011] EWHC 3488 (admin)

QBD (Admin) (Beatson J) 21/12/2011

 

The High Court found that the young person was over 18 and agreed with the Local Authority age assessment – disagreeing with two decisions of the Asylum and Immigration Panel that he was under 18.  (This of course poses an interesting internal dilemma, since the Court’s decision is binding for the purposes of the Children Act, but the AIP for the purposes of asylum and immigration, and the young person is currently occupying a state of flux akin to Schroedinger’s cat, being simultaneously under 18 and over 18. )

 

but, hoorah! The Court has also resolved this, by indicating the cases in which it is sensible for the age-assessment decision to be binding on everyone.

 

 

R (on the application of AS (BY HIS LITIGATION FRIEND THE OFFICIAL SOLICITOR)) v CROYDON LONDON BOROUGH COUNCIL (2011)

[2011] EWHC 2091 (Admin)

QBD (Admin) (Judge Anthony Thornton QC) 25/10/2011

it was possible to identify factors which had to be established for a declaration to be made in rem. A claimant had to show that: (a) the determination was in the form of a judgment and not simply a finding of facts upon which a judgment was based; (b) the tribunal had jurisdiction to make the relevant determination; (c) the relevant statute, expressly or by necessary implication, conferred on the tribunal the jurisdiction to make a determination in rem, indicated by the conferral of exclusive jurisdiction to make a final determination about the status of the claimant; (d) the judgment was final, on the merits and not by consent; and (e) there was a public interest in the judgment being one which bound everyone

I have found over forty reported cases on age assessments of unaccompanied asylum seekers, and those obviously don’t include any that are resolved by a Court but don’t have any particularly interesting or novel clarifications of points of law.  That includes seventeen in 2011 and thirty since the Supreme Court ruling.