Latest news Major government defeat over dental age checks


March 10, 2022

This week the government suffered a heavy defeat in the House of Lords over the issue of dental age checks. We were delighted to see Peers vote with a majority of 70 to pass an amendment we lobbied for, which strengthens safeguards around the use of scientific methods to age undocumented migrants.

Lords support for new Term 64A

We have vigorously opposed Home Office plans to use dental x-rays to determine whether asylum seekers have reached the age of 18, pointing out that this is an inaccurate and contrary method. ethics to assess age. Part 4 of the Nationality and Borders Bill gives the Home Secretary the power to define which scientific age assessment methods could be used in migration cases in later regulations.

We have drafted a series of amendments on this issue for the committee stage of the bill, which would limit the use of so-called scientific methods of age assessment. Our amendments, tabled by Baroness Lister of Burtersett, were supported by Labour, Liberal Democrats, Green parties, as well as a number of heterogeneous peers.

Due to time constraints, there could only be one vote on scientific methods of age assessment at the critical stage of the report. Thus, the opposition peers combined the major amendments on this issue into a new, longer composite clause 64A. This included our proposed requirement that any scientific method used to determine age must first be found to be both ethical and accurate beyond reasonable doubt by competent dental, medical and scientific bodies.

The new Term 64A was backed by all-party Lords and passed – despite government opposition – by a significant majority. Of the six amendments on which the Lords defeated the government last night, this one enjoyed by far the most support.

The new Clause 64A’s sponsor, Baroness Neuberger, presented the evidence showing that dental age checks were not accurate and the ethical arguments against their use. She reminded the minister that the BDA has been “unequivocal in its rejection of the use of dental x-rays”, considering them both unethical and inaccurate.

Co-sponsor Baroness Lister echoed her colleague’s comments, challenging the minister’s claim that the UK is an exception in Europe in not using ionizing radiation for radiation checks. age, citing BDA research on this issue. She again urged the Minister to ensure that dental bodies are represented on the Scientific Advisory Committee on Age Estimation, which has been tasked with determining the appropriate scientific methods to be used.

“Age assessment techniques must be proportionate and fair,” insisted Lord Carlile. “If any intrusive measures are to be taken – including dental x-rays – it should be based on proven evidence of scientific reliability, not vague opinions that it might add anything.”

In his first acknowledgment of the serious limitations of this method, Minister Lord Stewart of Dirleton said “we fully appreciate that these assessments are not in themselves accurate”. He assured that the Lords x-rays “are not intended to replace, but merely augment” the existing process led by social workers.

The new section 64A will now be subject to approval by the House of Commons, and we will continue to press for these measures to remain in the bill as it becomes part of the statute book.

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