Leah Connolly advises on Age Determination of Unaccompanied Minor
Our client appeared before the Youth Court in relation to 6 allegations of theft and attempted theft. He also appeared before the Crown Court in relation to a robbery.
He entered the UK illegally from Algeria around August 2021. Whilst Home Office documentation stated he was an adult, our client disputed this and stated he was a child, 6 years younger than the Home Office’s record of his age. Therefore, before Court proceedings could continue, the Court had to determine age.
An age determination hearing involves the consideration of expert written evidence and oral submissions and are not regularly heard in the Youth Court. We instructed two independent Social Workers to undertake a Merton compliant (trauma-based) assessment. These assessments are highly complex and sensitive by their very nature, and can take up to 8 hours to complete.
As the National Referral Mechanism for Modern Slavery had been registered under the alleged adult date of birth, the exercise of assessing his complex vulnerabilities was even more difficult. Multiple representations and challenges were made to decisions to remand our client and to interview him without an appropriate adult being present due to misconceptions about his age.
This case was only resolved after an excess of 20 hearings; this was an exceptional case for the lower courts. Whilst the Court ultimately determined that our client was an adult, it was acknowledged that the evidence provided for the Prosecution as to the date of birth was insufficient in the light of the evidence served by the defence. Therefore, the defendant was treated as someone who had only recently turned 18.