QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL
B e f o r e :
| HJ (By her litigation friend Ron Brejier)
|LONDON BOROUGH OF CROYDON
|ROYAL BOROUGH OF GREENWICH
H. Harrop-Griffiths (instructed by Croydon Legal) for the Defendant
Hearing date: 18 November 2020
Crown Copyright ©
Hugh Mercer QC sitting as a Deputy Judge of the High Court:
The statutory context
"(a) to safeguard and promote the welfare of children within their area who are in need;
by providing a range and level of services appropriate to those children's needs."
"(1) Where it appears to a local authority that any authority [...] mentioned in subsection (3) could, by taking any specified action, help in the exercise of any of their functions under this Part, they may request the help of that other authority [...], specifying the action in question.
(2) An authority whose help is so requested shall comply with the request if it is compatible with their own statutory or other duties and obligations and does not unduly prejudice the discharge of any of their functions. "
"Presumption about age
(1) This section applies where
(a) a public authority with functions under relevant arrangements has reasonable grounds to believe that a person may be a victim of human trafficking, and
(b) the authority is not certain of the person's age but has reasonable grounds to believe that the person may be under 18.
(2) Until an assessment of the person's age is carried out by a local authority or the person's age is otherwise determined, the public authority must assume for the purposes of its functions under relevant arrangements that the person is under 18. "
"The first step towards safeguarding and promoting the welfare of a child in need by providing services for him and his family is to identify the child's need for those services. It is implicit in section 17(1) that a local authority will take reasonable steps to assess, for the purposes of the Act, the needs of any child in its area who appears to be in need. Failure to carry out this duty may attract a mandatory order in an appropriate case "
"Is he within the local authority's area? This again is not contentious. But it may be worth remembering that it was an important innovation in the forerunner provision in the Children Act 1948. Local authorities have to look after children in their area irrespective of where they are habitually resident. They may then pass a child on to the area where he is ordinarily resident under section 20(2) or recoup the cost of providing for him under section 29(7). But there should be no more passing the child from pillar to post while the authorities argue about where he come from."
"But in my view there was no performance of the section 20 duty at all in his case. Hillingdon did not even carry out a reassessment of AK's age to see whether the Children Act applied. They regarded this as the responsibility of Liverpool. They showed both by their words and their actions that they were not accepting that they were under a section 20 duty."
" I would prefer for myself to be cautious about whether it might not after all be possible for two local authorities to have a concurrent duty to a child: on the ground that the child was a child in need in the area of each successively in circumstances where the first local authority had not discharged its duty before the second authority had acquired its duty on the child moving or being moved into its area. After all, the statute is concerned with the interests of the child before that of adjusting the responsibilities of separate local authorities."
"Disputes have arisen between local authorities about who is responsible for assessing the age of a child when he or she has been moved between two or more local authority areas. In the case of R (Liverpool CC) v. Hillingdon LBC, the Court of Appeal held that after the young person had been released from Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre, the London Borough of Hillingdon should have conducted an age assessment and also a full assessment of his needs for the purposes of section 20 of the Children Act 2004 [sic], even though the young person had previously been assessed by Liverpool.
However in R (A) v. Leicester CC and Hillingdon LBC, a case in which the claimant child had moved from one authority's area to the other and there was no dispute about her age, HHJ Farmer QC held that concurrent duties were owed. The possibility that this could be the case in age assessment cases was raised but not resolved in R(Liverpool CC) and also in the later case of R (HA) v. Hillingdon LBC and SSHD. Therefore, a local authority should conduct an age assessment for any child who comes to their attention where there is significant reason to doubt the age claimed even if the child has moved from another local authority area before an age assessment is conducted."
"If it becomes clear that there is not enough evidence to show that an age assessment was completed in line with case law the Home Office must ask the LA for this information. If the LA cannot provide this, an age assessment which is in line with case law must be carried out. The LAs must collaborate and promptly agree which LA must take responsibility for conducting the age assessment."
i) The Assessment team's conclusion on 15 January 2020 is recorded in the Person Case Notes as establishing that HJ "is over 18 years and therefore is an adult" and in the note written up later by RBG ("the Note of Interview") as "in her early 20s" but there is no recognition of the margin for error in such an assessment and the need to give HJ the benefit of the doubt in what RBG describes as a "preliminary assessment";
ii) It is not recorded that RBG explained to HJ that it was carrying out an age assessment and the Person Case Notes indicate various other purposes for the interview which took place on 15 January 2020;
iii) No appropriate adult is recorded as being present;
iv) There is no suggestion in the Note of Interview that RBG put adverse matters to HJ;
v) There is no record of a reasoned decision as to why it was rejecting HJ's account of her age.