High Court grants interim relief in age dispute challenge: MA v Liverpool City Council [2023] EWHC 359 (Admin)

17 March 2023

Vijay Jagadesham

The High Court has confirmed that, for the purposes of the Children Act 1989, a young person should be treated as his claimed age and looked after by Liverpool City Council whilst he challenges their decision that he is an adult.

In doing so, the High Court considered the application of the “protective precautionary approach”, including the following from the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) age assessment guidance:

“…Where there is doubt about whether or not the young person is a child, the dangers inherent in treating a child as an adult are in almost all cases far greater than the dangers of taking a young adult into your care” (see judgment at paras 34 & 35 onwards).

The Court highlighted that:

“…whether the court wrongly grants interim relief to someone who is in fact an adult or refuses interim relief to someone who is in fact a child, there is a risk of failing to protect young people” (see para 49).

The Court concluded that MA’s case was “certainly a stronger case than many contested age assessment cases” (para 45) and that there was “plausible evidence that the Claimant is vulnerable” (para 51).

Commentary

This is an important judgment in the age dispute area and appears to be one of the fullest reported judgments addressing the grant of interim relief whilst a young person is bringing a legal challenge. It also addresses the flexibility that can be applied in interim relief applications in this area (see paras 25 and 46).

This decision and the risks it highlights for young people where age is wrongly assessed comes at a time when the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) is openly questioning whether its members should work for the National Age Assessment Board. The judgment reveals the difficult questions that decision makers, including the Courts, already face and it would be extremely concerning if decisions on age were to influenced by “political priorities”.

Vijay Jagadesham, from our Immigration and Asylum team, represents MA, instructed by Laura Gibbons from the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit.

Read the full judgement here.

Vijay Jagadesham has a practice with a particular emphasis on the representation of vulnerable individuals within the immigration and asylum law field: including unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC), those facing age disputes and requiring interim relief, individuals suffering from significant mental health issues and disabilities, and victims of gender-based and sexual violence.

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