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Judge rules against council over refusal to accommodate before age assessment

A local authority did not have good reason for departing from statutory guidance requiring it to provide accommodation and support to an unaccompanied young person pending a lawful age assessment, a High Court judge has ruled.

In S, R (on the application of) v London Borough of Croydon & Anor [2017] EWHC 265 (Admin) the claimant, S, was a national of Iraq. He had arrived, unaccompanied, in the UK on 7 September 2016 and claimed asylum.

S was detained overnight and then accommodated by the Home Office at Brigstock House in Croydon, where he remains. He claimed that he was 15 years old, having been born in 2000.

The London Borough of Croydon did not accept this, but proposed to carry out an assessment of his age.

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The defendant council refused to provide accommodation and support to the claimant pending the conclusion of that age assessment. The claimant, who was forced to remain in adult asylum accommodation, sought a judicial review of that decision. 

Ruling against the local authority, Mr Justice Lavender said he was not persuaded that Croydon had good reason for department from the relevant statutory guidance in this case.

The statutory guidance – reinforced by guidance from the Association of Directors of Children’s Services – requires that where a person’s age is in doubt, they must be treated as a child unless, and until, a full age assessment shows the person to be an adult.

Helen Johnson, Head of Children’s Services at the Refugee Council, which brought the claim on behalf of S, said: "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. This ruling will help keep more of these children safe at a frightening and bewildering time."

Johnson added: "It’s vital that local authorities put young people’s safety first and follow the expert guidelines available to them."

Law firm Bhatia Best acted for S. Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC of Doughty Street Chambers acted for the intervener, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, instructed by Rosemary Lloyd.

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