Refugee Council welcomes important judgment relating to age assessments - Refugee Council
January 19, 2022

Refugee Council welcomes important judgment relating to age assessments

The Refugee Council today (Wednesday 19 January 2022) warmly welcomes a judgment made in the High Court of Justice in a case challenging the Kent Intake Unit (KIU) social worker guidance. The Refugee Council provided a witness statement and acted as litigation friend to the appellants in this case.

The judgment, which you can read in full here, has found that ‘the Guidance in its current form, and the age assessments carried out in relation to the Claimants, were not lawful in the particular respects I have identified; and that if and insofar as the Claimants’ detention was lengthened for the purposes of carrying out those assessments, it was unlawful.’

This is very welcome news for several important reasons:

  • We are clear in our view that that undertaking such age assessments on very newly arrived young people at port contravenes all the standards of fairness laid down by the courts. Children and young people are exhausted, often frightened, unsure as to who they are talking to, whether they are safe, and what is going to happen to them next. They have just endured a very frightening experience and this is not the time or the place to be conducting interviews, the outcome of which has very significant impact on their lives;
  • The fact that these interviews are conducted by social workers gives these decisions the veneer of a fair process when this is plainly absent. If children are deemed adult at this point they are sent as adults to other parts of the country where other professionals, including other social workers, understandably are often led to believe that a fair and comprehensive assessment has taken place;
  • The Home Office itself has not been clear about the status of these KIU social worker assessments, referring to them at different times in different ways; and
  • Our own work in this area (see more below) clearly demonstrates that many of these decisions are overturned when the young person is seen elsewhere, but the veneer of a good assessment having taken place often delays or prevents proper assessment taking place.

Commenting on today’s judgment, Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said:

‘Today’s important judgment is very welcome but not surprising. In recent months our Age Dispute Project has helped numerous young people secure a lawful age assessment by social workers following a flawed decision made on arrival in Dover and we are relieved that the practice of hasty decisions is no longer allowed to continue. Distinguishing between adults and children is not something that can be done quickly; it takes time and expertise to make the right decision.

Children seeking safety arriving alone in the UK are bewildered and frightened. They have been subjected to processes with neither safeguards nor oversight, relying on little more than luck to ensure that someone identifies them as being wrongly deemed adult and helps them access the care they are entitled to. No child should have been faced with disbelief and such appalling practice.

It is disturbing that this government seeks to portray this issue as one of adults abusing the system and is coming up with quick fixes, including scientific methods, already deemed inaccurate and invasive.’

Our Age Dispute Project

The Age Dispute Project is the only one of its kind, ensuring that many children across the country each year are accepted as such and can begin to recover from their experiences with appropriate support and safeguards.

We only take on cases where we believe the young person is aged under 18. We gather as much information as we can about the young person and meet with them to see whether we are able to take on their case.

We work across the country, liaising with young people and stakeholders wherever they are. Where possible, we work with local authorities and other agencies to resolve a young person’s case without recourse to legal representation. Where this is not possible we work with solicitors and barristers to ensure that the young person has proper legal advice and representation so that they are properly safeguarded.