A court has warned judges against over reliance on dental x-rays to establish the ages of children who arrive in Britain alone.
In a new ruling, Mr Justice Ockleton ruled there was not sufficient evidence that a new method of analysing dental x-rays was a reliable way of determining a child’s age and should not be used.
The court found that the existing method, while potentially useful for establishing the ages of younger children, could not verify – by experts’ own admission – whether or not someone is over or under the age of 18.
The judgment comes as an increasing number of local authorities are seeking permission to rely on dental x-rays as a way of assessing unaccompanied children’s ages.
Last month, the British Dental Association stated that testing young people’s teeth to establish their age was immoral and didn’t work.
The case was brought after Croydon Council attempted to obtain permission to force two boys from Afghanistan known as ‘ZM’ and ‘SK’ to have a dental x-rays as a means of establishing their ages.
Both boys arrived in the UK last summer and said they were 14 and 15 years old respectively. However, Croydon Council didn’t believe them and assessed them both as adults.
The boys’ lawyers and the Refugee Council decided to challenge the local authority’s assessment but Croydon Council insisted on sending both boys for dental x-rays to ‘prove’ they were adults after a dental professor claimed it was possible to judge a young person’s age accurately through x-rays.
Today’s case focused on whether or not there was independent evidence which supported the idea it was possible to accurately ‘prove’ children’s ages through a new method of analysing dental x-rays.
While the case was awaiting judgment, Croydon Council removed ‘SK’ from his foster family, forcibly separated him from his brother, and he was sent to live in an adult accommodation centre. Meanwhile just before the judgment was given, Croydon Council finally accepted that ‘ZM’ was in fact a child.
Responding to the ruling, Refugee Council Policy Manager Judith Dennis said:
“This ruling will force local authorities to stop looking for easy answers when it comes to assessing children’s ages.
“Instead, councils must invest in getting their decisions right through lawful, sensitive and expert led age assessments. It’s vital local authorities get these decisions right: getting them wrong can have disastrous consequences for the children’s safety and well being.”