AMAA v Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Refugee Appeals Tribunal

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Respondent/Defendant:Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Refugee Appeals Tribunal
Court/s:High Court
Citation/s:[2014] IEHC 505
Nature of Proceedings:Judicial Review
Judgment Date/s:01 Oct 2014
Judge:Barr J.
Category:Refugee Law
Keywords:Asylum, Persecution, Refugee
Country of Origin:Sudan
URL:https://www.courts.ie/acc/alfresco/825e8131-1ea3-4adf-8ef5-06b3f8e8e9bd/2014_IEHC_505_1.pdf/pdf#view=fitH
Geographic Focus:Ireland
he applicant claimed to be a Sudanese national from Darfur. He arrived in the State and claimed asylum. He said he was a farmer and lived with his parents and four brothers until 2003, when the Janjaweed militia attacked and destroyed his village and killed his father. He said his two brothers subsequently joined an armed group known as the Public Army for the Liberation of Darfur, which fought against the government and the Janjaweed. He went with his mother and two younger brothers to another village. It was also attacked by the Janjaweed and his mother killed. He was subsequently arrested by the authorities and detained for six or seven months. He claimed to have been beaten and ill-treated during that time. He was also questioned, during which his hands were tied behind his back with ropes and he was blindfolded. He was beaten with rubber hoses and burnt with something resembling a branding iron. Whilst being moved to another prison, the vehicle in which he was travelling was attacked by rebels and he managed to escape, making his way to the State by ship, a journey which took several weeks.
The applicant’s asylum application was refused by the Refugee Applications Commissioner and this was affirmed by the Refugee Appeals Tribunal. The applicant challenged the Tribunal’s decision by way of judicial review.
In support of his appeal to the Tribunal, he submitted a SPIRASI medical report. This identified a number of scars and marks on his body which were said to be “consistent with” his account of ill-treatment. He was also found to be exhibiting symptoms of anxiety, sleep disturbance and of a post-traumatic nature. He also submitted a letter from the Darfur Solidarity Ireland, of which he was a member, vouching for his claim.
In its decision, the Tribunal found that the applicant lacked credibility inter alia due to his lack of knowledge of distances between various villages in the Darfur region. The Tribunal noted the SPIRASI report and outlined the injuries discussed in it. It said that the conclusion that the scars were “consistent with” the history related by the applicant was at the lowest end of the Istanbul Protocol and that the SPIRASI Report had to be considered in the light of his overall testimony. The decision did not mention the letter from Darfur Solidarity Ireland.
The High Court granted the applicant leave to seek judicial review on a single ground, namely:-
“The Tribunal erred in law and acted in breach of fair procedures and natural and/or constitutional justice by reason of the failure to have any proper regard or give appropriate weight to the combination of the SPIRASI Report and the letter from Darfur Solidarity Ireland and in failing to assess the applicant’s credibility in the light thereof.”
Reasoning
The post-leave court noted that the Tribunal was incorrect in saying that the opinion asserted in the SPIRASI report respect of the cause of the scars was “at the lowest end of the Istanbul Protocol”, because the designation “not consistent” was the lowest determination on that scale. It did not, however, consider that error to be material, as the Tribunal knew that it was dealing with injuries which were “consistent with” a history of deliberately inflicted burns. It therefore declined to quash the decision on that basis.
However, the court held that the Tribunal had not properly considered the content of the SPIRASI report when considering the credibility of the applicant. It said that it was a significant piece of objective evidence which supported the applicant’s account of having been tortured in his home country. The Tribunal had failed to describe what significance, if any, was attached to the report. If it was to discount it, it was incumbent on it to state clearly its reasons for so doing. Accordingly, it held that the Tribunal erred in law in failing to consider the medical report adequately and to give any adequate reasons or explanation for rejecting its probative value.
In respect of the letter from Darfur Solidarity Ireland, the Tribunal submitted that it did not need to give an explanation for not attaching weight to it, particularly having regard to the clear, unchallenged adverse credibility findings made against the applicant. The court, however, rejected that submission, and held that the Tribunal had erred in failing to have any proper regard to it, or to give appropriate weight to it, in combination with the SPIRASI Report, when assessing credibility.
Decision
The court therefore quashed the Tribunal’s decision.

Facts:
The applicant claimed to be a Sudanese national from Darfur. He arrived in the State and claimed asylum. He said he was a farmer and lived with his parents and four brothers until 2003, when the Janjaweed militia attacked and destroyed his village and killed his father. He said his two brothers subsequently joined an armed group known as the Public Army for the Liberation of Darfur, which fought against the government and the Janjaweed. He went with his mother and two younger brothers to another village. It was also attacked by the Janjaweed and his mother killed. He was subsequently arrested by the authorities and detained for six or seven months. He claimed to have been beaten and ill-treated during that time. He was also questioned, during which his hands were tied behind his back with ropes and he was blindfolded. He was beaten with rubber hoses and burnt with something resembling a branding iron. Whilst being moved to another prison, the vehicle in which he was travelling was attacked by rebels and he managed to escape, making his way to the State by ship, a journey which took several weeks.

The applicant’s asylum application was refused by the Refugee Applications Commissioner and this was affirmed by the Refugee Appeals Tribunal. The applicant challenged the Tribunal’s decision by way of judicial review.

In support of his appeal to the Tribunal, he submitted a SPIRASI medical report. This identified a number of scars and marks on his body which were said to be “consistent with” his account of ill-treatment. He was also found to be exhibiting symptoms of anxiety, sleep disturbance and of a post-traumatic nature. He also submitted a letter from the Darfur Solidarity Ireland, of which he was a member, vouching for his claim.In its decision, the Tribunal found that the applicant lacked credibility inter alia due to his lack of knowledge of distances between various villages in the Darfur region. The Tribunal noted the SPIRASI report and outlined the injuries discussed in it. It said that the conclusion that the scars were “consistent with” the history related by the applicant was at the lowest end of the Istanbul Protocol and that the SPIRASI Report had to be considered in the light of his overall testimony. The decision did not mention the letter from Darfur Solidarity Ireland.

The High Court granted the applicant leave to seek judicial review on a single ground, namely:- “The Tribunal erred in law and acted in breach of fair procedures and natural and/or constitutional justice by reason of the failure to have any proper regard or give appropriate weight to the combination of the SPIRASI Report and the letter from Darfur Solidarity Ireland and in failing to assess the applicant’s credibility in the light thereof.”

Reasoning:
The post-leave court noted that the Tribunal was incorrect in saying that the opinion asserted in the SPIRASI report respect of the cause of the scars was “at the lowest end of the Istanbul Protocol”, because the designation “not consistent” was the lowest determination on that scale. It did not, however, consider that error to be material, as the Tribunal knew that it was dealing with injuries which were “consistent with” a history of deliberately inflicted burns. It therefore declined to quash the decision on that basis.

However, the court held that the Tribunal had not properly considered the content of the SPIRASI report when considering the credibility of the applicant. It said that it was a significant piece of objective evidence which supported the applicant’s account of having been tortured in his home country. The Tribunal had failed to describe what significance, if any, was attached to the report. If it was to discount it, it was incumbent on it to state clearly its reasons for so doing. Accordingly, it held that the Tribunal erred in law in failing to consider the medical report adequately and to give any adequate reasons or explanation for rejecting its probative value.In respect of the letter from Darfur Solidarity Ireland, the Tribunal submitted that it did not need to give an explanation for not attaching weight to it, particularly having regard to the clear, unchallenged adverse credibility findings made against the applicant. The court, however, rejected that submission, and held that the Tribunal had erred in failing to have any proper regard to it, or to give appropriate weight to it, in combination with the SPIRASI Report, when assessing credibility.

Decision:

The court therefore quashed the Tribunal’s decision.

Principles:

If a protection decision-maker wishes to reject the credibility of an applicant’s claim to have suffered ill-treatment, it must have regard to any medical evidence supportive of that claim. If it wishes to discount that evidence, or considers that it cannot give much weight to it, it should set out an explanation for that stance, as failure to do so may result in its decision being quashed. The same principle applies to any other evidence supportive of the applicant’s claim. 

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