This term is used in relation to asylum seeking children and young people. The Merton judgment was handed down by Burnton J in the High Court on 14th July 2003, and gives ‘guidance as to the requirements of a lawful assessment by a local authority of the age of a young asylum seeker claiming to be under the age of 18 years’. All local authorities are required, following the Merton judgment, to ensure that their assessments are full and comprehensive, and that the process for assessing age is clear, transparent and fair.
A Merton Compliant assessment will normally include a face-to-face meeting with the young person; set out the general background of the applicant, and adhere to standards of fairness.
Some of the key points noted by the court were:
- The decision maker must explain to an applicant the purpose of the interview;
- Except in clear cases, the decision-maker cannot determine age solely on the basis of the appearance of the applicant;
- In general, the decision-maker must seek to elicit the general background of the applicant, including the applicant’s family circumstances and history, educational background, and the applicant’s activities during the previous few years. Ethnic and cultural information may also be important. If there is reason to doubt the applicant’s statement as to their age, the decision maker will have to make an assessment of the applicant’s credibility, and he will have to ask questions designed to test the applicant’s credibility;
- If the decision-maker forms the provisional view that the applicant is lying, the applicant must be given the opportunity to address the matters that have led to that view;
- Adequate reasons must be given for a decision that an applicant claiming to be a child is not a child (though these need not be long or elaborate);
- Cases vary, and the level of inquiry required in one case may not be necessary in another;
- A local authority may take into account information obtained by the Home Office, but it must make its own decision, and for that reason must have adequate information available to it.
It is important to note that there is a constantly evolving body of case-law in relation to local authority age assessments, and legal advice must be sought as appropriate.
Local authority Merton-compliant age assessments will be taken into account by UK Visas and Immigration