Limited weight placed on local authority age assessment and guidance as to reliability of social media evidence

R(AY) v LB Barnet JR/5284/2019 

Tribunal Decision here.

Age assessment "fact-finding" judgments (conducted in circumstances where a local authority has determined an applicant for services under the Children Act 1989 not to be a "child" and the age of the putative child is disputed) are by their nature fact-sensitive.

However, in this case Upper Tribunal Judge Kamara was able to place only "limited weight" on Barnet's age assessment document, which is usually the core of a local authority case in such disputes, and the reasons why are instructive. She also gave useful guidance as to the production of social media evidence, to which she was also only able to attach limited weight because of deficiencies.

On the age assessment produced by Barnet, it was held that:

  • There had been three age assessment interviews, however the age assessment document made no attempt to attribute responses said to have been those of the applicant to any particular date or event [35];
  • No contemporaneous record had been produced of the interviews and there was no explanation for the lack of this. There was no record of the narrative questions and answers, which was contrary to the ADCS Guidance on record keeping during age assessment interviews. The Applicant's suggestion that his responses had been misinterpreted or not properly recorded was "not an unreasonable one in the light of the poor records available" [36, 39, 43, 44, 98];
  • The assessment and evidence adduced on behalf of Barnet failed to set out that the assessors had the required experience of age assessment, in breach of page 12 of the ADCS Guidance [38];
  • The age assessment was itself in breach of the ADCS Guidance as Barnet had regarded such an assessment as being "standard good practice" although there was no dispute as to AY's age, whereas both statutory and non-statutory guidance require that there be a dispute as to age before such an assessment is commenced [40];
  • There was no evidence produced from the appropriate adult [42].
UTJ Kamara was also able to place only "limited weight" on social media posts which were relied upon by Barnet and again, her reasons for rejecting the relevance of these provide useful guidance as to what a Judge might expect, evidentially, in relation to social media posts [49,50].
  • no account was provided by Barnet as to how the photographs and comments relied upon were identified and obtained
  • the majority of the posts were translated from a different language, yet the original posts were not provided
  • There were inconsistencies between the "likes" and "loves" shown on the photographs and the posts said to relate to those photographs, such that the UTJ could not be satisfied that the posts related to the photographs provided.
  • The applicant was not shown these items during the age assessment process
  • Incomplete information was before the Upper Tribunal, as the photograph albums to which photos belonged had not been produced
  • Barnet produced no evidence as to when the posts, some of which were years old, were extracted.
Finally, it was held that Barnet had failed to consider Home Office records which were relevant to its findings on age, and country specific information (Barnet disputed the nationality of the Applicant, whereas the Home Office had accepted this) in reaching its conclusion on age [57].

Siân Davies appeared for the Applicant, AY, instructed by Bindmans Solicitors

Notes: ADCS Age Assessment Guidance, October 2015, can be found here.