In what to me is a shocking development, we learn through the case of R (on the application of AO) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWHC 110 (Admin) (28 January 2011) that it actually takes the UK Border Agency longer to process a child’s asylum claim than that of an adult.
In some ways this is no surprise. Asylum claims by unaccompanied children are difficult to handle, require all sorts of additional resources and care and should take longer to decide than an adult case, on a case-by-case comparison. The reason that it is shocking is that the UK Border Agency has always claimed that it prioritises child claims and in the AO case actually claimed that child cases were normally decided more quickly than those of adults. Everything points in the direction of that being UKBA’s intention: to decide child cases more quickly than those of adults.
In reality, only after an expert was brought in to analyse the data disclosed by UKBA in the AO case, it was revealed that child asylum claims in fact normally take longer to decide and are not prioritised in time terms at all.
An interesting side issue to the case is the relationship between UKBA, Treasury Solicitors and Treasury Counsel. Counsel in this case asserted that child claims are normally decided more quickly. This was done in an application to set aside an order that had already been made. In fact the expert evidence, accepted by UKBA, later showed that this was simply untrue. The order was in fact set aside, partly on the basis of the false assertion made.
It is invidious that Counsel was put in a position by either or both Treasury Solicitors and/or UKBA where he was inadvertently misleading the court on a highly material matter for the purpose of setting aside an order. It is appalling that the court was misled into the setting aside of the order. If I had to take a bet I’d place the blame squarely at the door of UKBA, who have a very poor reputation for providing instructions on time or otherwise complying with the court process. The judge in this case essentially ignores this matter, merely saying that it was ‘unfortunate’. In legal terms that is perhaps right. In policy terms, it is quite amazing that UKBA does not know even this sort of basic information about its own processes and is willing to assert that child claims are prioritised when nothing is in fact done to achieve this in practice.
There is an awful lot of work still to be done at UKBA for the Agency to start taking seriously compliance with the section 55 duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.