This decision, handed down by Swift J in the High Court, concerns the requirements for fairness in local authority age assessments for asylum seekers and the correct approach to be adopted.
The claimant, a Sudanese national, arrived in the UK on 21 May 2021 and made an application for asylum, claiming to be 17 years old. The local authority did not believe the claimant to be a child and assessed him to be 23 years old. The claimant was provided with initial accommodation in the area of the local authority. Social workers employed by the local council also assessed the claimant as being 23 years old. The claimant’s legal representatives on two occasions complained about the local authority’s decision, firstly levelling several criticisms of the way the age assessment process had been conducted and then enclosing additional evidence in respect of the claimant’s age and requesting a reconsideration, which the local authority rejected.
Bedford v. Bedfordshire County Council, 21 June 2013, Jay J – read judgment
On 29 May 2004, Bradley Bedford, then aged 13, was beaten senseless by one AH, then 15, whom he had the misfortune to encounter entirely by chance near the seaside in Torbay. AH was in a children’s home there which was contracted to the Defendant Council; AH was a “looked after” child under section 20 of the Children Act 1989. Bradley sued the Council for failing to protect him. His claim was limited to one under the Human Rights Act, and Article 8 ECHR in particular.
Jay J dismissed the claim on the grounds that (a) it was brought too late; (b) there was not a real and immediate risk of harm to Bradley of which the Council should have been aware; (c) even if there was, the local authority took reasonable steps to eliminate or substantially reduce any risk. All these rulings are of some interest.
Denry Okpor v London Borough of Lewisham, Bromley County Court 25 October 2011 [Transcript not publicly available]
Adam Wagner represented Mr Okpor in this case. He is not the author of this post.
This was a rolled up permission to appeal and appeal hearing (on which more later) for appeal to a Circuit Judge from a possession order made by a District Judge at Bromley. At issue was whether the District Judge was wrong to reject a) a proportionality defence and b) a gateway B public law defence arising from Lewisham’s failure to follow its own policy. It is interesting as an example of proportionality/gateway B defences in action in the County Court, but also somewhat frustrating, for reasons which will become clear.
Mr Okpor was the secure tenant of Lewisham. At the age of 15 he had been taken into care by Lewisham following abuse. He left care aged 18 in 2006. In 2009, aged 21, he was given the secure tenancy. Mr O went into full time higher education later that year and has remained in full time higher education. This meant that the relevant Children Act 1989 provisions for care leavers continued to apply and would do until he was 24, if still in full time higher education. Mr O was receiving support from the Lewisham Leaving Care Team.
Bahta & Ors, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department & Ors  EWCA Civ 895 – Read judgment
The general rule in civil law cases is that the loser pays the winner’s legal costs, even if the case settles before trial. As with all general rules, there are plenty of exceptions, and many relate to public authorities. Two of those exceptions have just been chipped away at by the Court of Appeal.
Two important judgments increasing the likelihood that local authorities will have to pay out costs emerged the usual last-minute glut before the court term ended on Friday. The first concerned costs in the Court of Protection when an authority has unlawfully deprived a person of their liberty. The second was about costs in immigration judicial review claims which had settled following consent orders.
In a potentially landmark case, the European Court has been asked to determine the extent to which a local authority is under a duty prevent a breach of a person’s rights under Articles 3 (against inhuman and degrading treatment) and 8 (home and family life) in a case where two people with learning difficulties were violently harassed and threatened by a group of teenage youths.
The case concerns vulnerable adults who rely on social services. X and Y, who are married, both have learning difficulties. Z is the mother of X, and acted as a carer and advocate for both X and Y. X and Y lived in Hounslow Borough with Y’s two young children. Three local authority departments were involved with X and Y’s family, providing for their housing needs and allocating social workers for both the adults and children. Over a period from August 1999 until November 2000, X and Y were continually harassed and threatened by a group of teenage youths, who used the flat as a general ‘doss house’, dumping stolen goods, having sex and staying overnight.
Updated | We posted earlier on the Supreme Court ruling in Manchester City Council (Respondent) v Pinnock (Appellant), that requires courts to be satisfied that any order for possession sought by local authorities must be “in accordance with the law”, and (ii) “necessary in a democratic society” – that is, that it should be proportionate in the full meaning of the word.
How far this takes us from the previous position, where the role of the county court was limited to conducting a conventional judicial review of the councils’ decision in such cases, remains to be seen.
Coventry City Council v X, Y and Z (Care Proceedings: Costs: Identification of Local Authority)  EWHC B22 (Fam) – Read judgment
Coventry City Council has been ordered to pay £100,000 in costs and has been severely criticised by the High Court for child protection failures. What is particularly interesting about the case is the unusual decision of the High Court to disclose the name of the offending council at the request of the BBC.
Judge Bellamy decided the main case in February, ruling that the council, which had accused the children’s parents of faking their illnesses, had “fallen below acceptable standards”. The council had attempted to withdraw care orders for three children at the last moment after it admitted to not having enough evidence to back up its claims. The judge was so unimpressed with the council’s conduct of the case that he ordered them to pay the parents’ costs of £100,000.
This was an appeal against the decision of the judge at first instance granting the local authority a full care order and placement order in respect of the appellant mother’s children. One of the children had been admitted to hospital as a baby with a fracture injury that was diagnosed as being non-accidental, following which both children were immediately taken from their parents’ care and placed with their maternal grandmother.
A later fact finding hearing determined that the baby’s injury had probably been caused by her father and that the mother had failed to protect the baby, although the judge did find that the mother had very many good qualities and her parenting abilities, per se, were not in issue, and that apart from the fracture injury there was no evidence that the children had suffered any harm.
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