Age assessment is a process to decide someone’s age. This happens when the authorities (the police or social services or the court) dispute the age a child says they are.
A person’s age may be questioned, for example, because a child does not have a birth certificate or passport. This can happen when children arrive in the UK without parents or carers (unaccompanied minors).
If a person says they are under 18, they should be treated as child until their age can be verified.1
If a person’s age is disputed, the court has the power to determine the person’s age.2 The court can consider documentation and hear evidence from witnesses, it should not rely solely on the appearance of the defendant.3 In some cases the local authority may carry out an age assessment.4
The fairness of an age assessment is closely linked to its compliance with the “Merton principles”.5 These require providing the assessed individual appropriate support, taking into account more than just the individual’s physical characteristics and giving the individual the opportunity to respond to matters considered adverse before a decision is reached.
Adult who is actually a child
If an adult court discovers the defendant is aged under 18, any order or judgment of the court will remain valid6 but it may be important to overturn (change) decisions that are unfair to the child. If the case has not finished, the case should be remitted (transferred) to the youth court.
Child is actually an adult
If a youth court later finds out the defendant is aged over 18, the youth court can continue to hear the case.7 Any order or judgment or sentence passed will remain valid.6
Weight of an age assessment in a criminal court
Where an age assessment has been appropriately carried out, age assessments are considered to have some weight by the courts. A criminal court is not bound by a Merton-compliant age assessment, but it should consider them carefully.8
- 1. Section 44 Children and Young Persons Act 1933 ‘Every court…shall have regard to the welfare of the child…’ and Article 2 UNCRC ‘the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration’.
- 2. Section 99 Children and Young Persons Act 1933, Section 164(1) Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 and section 150(4) Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980
- 3. L, HVN, THN, T v R  EWCA Crim 991 at paragraphs 21-22
- 4. R (On the application of R) v London Borough of Merton  EWHC 1689 (Admin) gives guidance to local authorities on the conduct of an assessment of age of a person claiming to be under 18.
- 5. R (B) v Merton LBC  EWHC 1689 (Admin)
- 6.a. b. Section 99 Children & Young Persons Act 1933
- 7. Section 48(1) Children & Young Persons Act 1933
- 8. N v Staines Magistrates Court  EWHC 3081