The High Court today, 24 February 2017, gave a significant judgment on the rights and responsibilities of Social Services Departments of Local Authorities to vulnerable unaccompanied refugee children.
In the case of SS v Croydon London Borough Council, a vulnerable unaccompanied child challenged Croydon Council’s decision to refuse to treat him as a child and provide services to him under the Children Act whilst conducting an assessment to determine his precise age.
Whilst Croydon Council acknowledged that SS had to be treated as a child whilst an assessment was being completed, they argued that they were not responsible for and not required to provide accommodation suitable for him as a 15 year old child or provide services or support including help with education and healthcare.
Mr Justice Lavender at the High Court ruled that Croydon Council’s decision not to provide services under the Children Act pending the completion of an assessment was unlawful and amounted to a breach of statutory guidance given by the Department of Education in July 2014 on the treatment of unaccompanied and trafficked children.
The judgment will have far reaching implications for local authority social services across the country and is the first time the courts have been asked to consider whether duties arise towards unaccompanied children whose age is disputed or uncertain whilst an assessment of their age is undertaken.
The court also ruled that accommodation shared with adults provided by the Home Office would never be deemed suitable or safe for an unaccompanied child, and only in the most exceptional of cases when cogent reasons are provided could a local authority depart from the statutory guidance requiring social services to treat SS as a child until a detailed age assessment process had been completed.
The judgment means that unaccompanied and trafficked children, must be taken into care whilst an assessment is completed. The current practices whereby children such as SS are routinely held in unsafe, unsuitable adult accommodation without support and without services under the Children Act whilst an assessment of their age is undertaken are unlawful.
If you wish to discuss the judgment or its implications please contact Stuart Luke who represented SS in his challenge against Croydon Council through his litigation friend Francesco Jeff of the Refugee Council. Barrister Azeem Suterwalla of Monkton Chambers appeared for SS.
Contact the Public Law Team at Bhatia Best on 0115 9503231 option 4 or email Stuart at Stuart.Luke@bhatiabest.co.uk