Safety of child asylum seekers given boost after court ruling - Refugee Council
November 27, 2009

Safety of child asylum seekers given boost after court ruling

The Refugee Council today welcomes a Supreme Court judgment which will help to ensure the rights and safety of children seeking asylum in the UK are upheld.

Five Law Lords today granted an appeal brought by two asylum seeking young people, whose claims to be younger than 18 were disputed by Croydon and Lambeth local authorities*. In order to assess whether a young asylum seeker is entitled to children’s support, local authority social services are currently responsible for assessing whether they believe the child seeking asylum is in fact under 18. Today the Supreme Court unanimously decided that when a client appeals against a decision, the court retains the power to resolve the question, not the local authority.

A significant proportion of children whose age is disputed are later found to be children, and treating them as adults puts their safety at risk. The Refugee Council welcomes today’s ruling which strengthens the mechanisms for making good decisions on age disputes, but are now calling for the Government to ensure the initial assessment process is improved.

Donna Covey, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, said:

“While we welcome the Law Lord’s decision to ensure young asylum seekers can contest age disputes at a court hearing, we remain concerned that the quality of initial assessments by local authorities is unsatisfactory. It is unacceptable that the practice of judging the age of a young person relies predominantly on guess work.

“All too often we see the safety of children being disregarded when they are wrongly believed to be adults. These children are sent to live in unsupervised accommodation as adults with people they don’t know, are accused of lying to get better treatment, and face the threat of detention and removal from the UK. This is no way to treat a child who is here without their parents, has committed no crime, and is seeking safety in our country.

“We strongly support the UKBA proposal to establish independent, multi agency age assessment centres. Evidence shows that social workers feel under pressure to make decisions on the age of a person, and that they frequently ignore court rulings made on age disputes. Most importantly, children in this situation must be given the benefit of the doubt. As well as a fair, just system that uses the expertise of a range of professionals and is subject to independent oversight, we are calling for the human rights of children always to be put first.”