Joshua Swirsky acted for the local authority in R(F) v Manchester City Council. The council had carried out an age assessment on a young man from Guinea and concluded he was 20 years old rather than his claimed age of 17. He did not challenge the age assessment by way of judicial review, though his solicitors had written a pre-action protocol letter.
F was seeking asylum in the UK. He claimed he was in fear of his life from his father and other family members because he had changed his religion. Instead of challenging the original age assessment F obtained a court order from Conakry (the Guinean capital) containing a declaration of his date of birth. He presented this together with further evidence from a youth worker and someone else who knew him and asked the council to re-assess his age.
The local authority declined to do so on the basis that the evidence from Conakry was unreliable. The Guinean court order said on its face that the application had been made by the father who F was in fear of. A subsequent statement from F’s priest was to the effect that it was the priest who had obtained the court order. The council also formed the view that the further evidence from a youth worker and friend would not have lead it to reach a ‘significantly different conclusion’ as regards F’s age, a test that derived from the ADCS Guidance.
F sought judicial review of this decision. He argued that it was Wednesbury unreasonable of the council to reject this further evidence without carrying out a full re-assessment and/or referring the court order to the Home Office for verification in accordance with the Joint Working Guidance. Alternatively F made a renewed application for permission for a factual determination of his case before the Upper Tribunal.
Julian Knowles J rejected the claim for judicial review and refused the renewed application for permission. He held that it was a rational response that the council was entitled to make to reject the court order given its inconsistency with F’s case as to why he came to the UK. When the local authority was not challenging the veracity of the court order but rather the basis upon which it had been obtained, there was no purpose in sending the document to the Home Office for verification. The judge went on to find that on these facts the threshold for a factual challenge was not met and, in any event, F was out of time for challenging the original age assessment.