(Queen's Bench Division (Administrative Court); Keith J; 6 May 2009)
A young person arrived in the UK from China, asserting that he was 17 years old. The immigration authorities initially accepted that he was the age he claimed to be. Only after the young person gave contradictory answers in interview did the immigration authorities and the local social services conclude that he was an adult. The letter informing him of this suggested that his age assessment was based on his physical appearance, but in fact there was no evidence that his physical appearance was a significant factor in the revised assessment. Subsequently the young person was charged with an immigration offence, and was convicted by an adult court. However, during his sentence he was treated as being less than 18 years old. Nonetheless, on his release the immigration authorities continued to treat him as an adult. A subsequent age assessment by social workers in a different local authority assessed him as 17 years old. Eventually the immigration authorities accepted that he was a minor, and gave him discretionary leave to remain for a short while.
The methodology used to assess the age of asylum seekers, namely whether their appearance and demeanour strongly supported their claim to be under the age of 18, was unlawful for the purpose of determining whether they should be prosecuted for an immigration offence.