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Successful judicial review of social services age assessment

R (on the application of GB by litigation friend, Francesco Jeff) v Oxfordshire County Council (age dispute- relevance of documents) IJR [2015] UKUT 429 (IAC) is an interesting and successful judicial review challenge to an age assessment. My colleague Shu Shin Luh was Counsel, instructed by Scott-Moncrieff & Associates.

The official headnote reads:

The duty of the Tribunal in disputed age assessments is to consider the evidence as a whole, including documentary evidence relied upon, even where there are a number of documents produced purporting to verify the claimed age. SA (Kuwait) v SSHD [2009] EWCA Civ 1157 considered.

At best this is highly selective. As you can see from the quotation from the case below, the headnote actually seems to state almost the exact opposite of the primary findings and outcome of the case, oddly.

The claimant was from Albania and claimed to have been born in 1998. Social services age assessors decided he was born in 1995. He was able to obtain documents that both parties accepted were authentic establishing that his claimed age was correct. Social services stuck to their guns, though, and maintained that his age was as assessed because his oral evidence seemed unreliable. On application for judicial review, the judge found in favour of the claimant and found that the documents alone were sufficient to establish the claimant’s age:

41. …It is clear from the judgment of Sedley LJ in SA (Kuwait) [[2009] EWCA Civ 1157] that the Tribunal may, in effect, ignore or discount an applicant’s unreliable personal testimony as to a particular fact if that fact is capable of being proved by documentary evidence the authenticity of which is not contested. Whilst I continue to consider that it was right for the Tribunal to examine all the evidence (indeed, it is arguable that it was required in law to do so) the submissions made by Ms Luh at the outset of the hearing now return with considerable force. The applicant has produced documents which, prima facie, prove that he was born, as he claims, on 5 April 1998. Evidence has been adduced detailing the administrative systems out of which those documents have been generated; (see Prenga [2010] EWHC 1765 (Admin) -“ whether a document can be determinative of age depends on the applicant’s country of origin and the quality of the material contained within the document) … Significantly, the defendant authority does not suggest that the applicant is an imposter or that the (genuine) records relate to anyone other than the applicant…

42. I do not consider anything which I heard in evidence in court has cast significant doubt on the provenance of, or the information contained within, identity documents from Albania which both parties accept relate to G B. That is a view underlined by the fact that the Home Office Forgery Department and an independent expert (jointly instructed by the parties) could find nothing wrong with the documents GB has produced. My primary finding, therefore, is that the identity documents alone prove G B’s claimed age notwithstanding the inconsistencies (which I have recorded above) which were revealed by cross-examination and G B’s own evidence.

The judge then goes on to make some damning findings on the age assessment carried out by Oxfordshire social services:

If I am wrong in that finding, then the documents need to be considered as part of the totality of the evidence and weighed accordingly. I accept that the manner by which G B claims to have obtained his documents appears implausible. Indeed, if one reads (4) of the addendum to the age assessment dated 21 October 2013 one can see that the only reason given by Ms Romanis and Ms Rahimi for doubting the accuracy of the documentary evidence is that they did not believe his story as to how he obtained the documents. However, as I have noted above, the fact that G B may have given an unreliable account does not, on SA (Kuwait) principles, undermine his case. Nor, in my opinion, are the implausibilities and discrepancies in G B’s evidence sufficiently serious to be trumped by the age assessment report or other evidence of Ms Rahimi and Ms Romanis. I have attached limited weight to an age assessment report which (i) contains details at odds with the assessors’ own manuscript notes; (ii) was prepared without any proper consideration of the school report and vaccination report; (iii) appears to have been signed off by the supervisor before a meeting at which G B was to be given the opportunity of addressing apparent discrepancies in the details which he had provided. I have also taken account of the fact that Ms Romanis candidly admitted that, if she were reassessing G B’s age in the light of all the evidence now produced, she might well agree that he is the age he claims to be.

Good result, well done Shu Shin!

Colin Yeo
Colin Yeo A barrister specialising in UK immigration law at Garden Court Chambers in London, I have been practising in immigration law for 15 years. I am passionate about immigration law and founded and edit the Free Movement immigration law blog.

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