AT v Refugee Appeals Tribunal and Others

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Respondent/Defendant:Refugee Appeals Tribunal, Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Ireland and the Attorney Genera
Court/s:High Court
Citation/s:[2015] IEHC 587
Nature of Proceedings:Judicial Review
Judgment Date/s:22 Sep 2015
Judge:Faherty J.
Category:Refugee Law
Keywords:Refugee
Country of Origin:Algeria
URL:https://www.courts.ie/acc/alfresco/6baa0f88-d416-495c-a6c6-0dc175830ea2/2015_IEHC_587_1.pdf/pdf#view=fitH
Geographic Focus:Ireland

Facts:
The applicant, a national of Algeria, claimed asylum in Ireland on the basis of a fear of persecution at the hands of the Algerian authorities. She said that a university lecturer, who was associated with an opposition party, had asked her to take some files, which were wanted by the authorities. The authorities learned of this, and the applicant then disposed of the files. They subsequently searched her but, as she was not in possession of the files, they released her. However, they detained and tortured her brother for two weeks. The applicant went to stay with an aunt, and learnt whilst there that the lecturer who gave her the files had been killed. She then left Algeria and travelled to the State via Tunisia and Italy.

Having investigated her claim, the Refugee Applications Commissioner made a negative recommendation on it. The recommendation was affirmed by the Refugee Appeals Tribunal, whose decision the applicant challenged in these proceedings.

The Tribunal rejected the applicant’s credibility in the following way:

(i) It noted that, at the appeal hearing, the appellant had denied being a member of the party with which her lecturer had been associated, contradicting her earlier assertion in her notice of appeal and in her s.11 interview with the Commissioner.
(ii) It noted that she told it that her lecturer gave her a file for safekeeping in February 2011, contradicting her earlier statement in the s. 11 interview that she had given it to her in March 2011.
(iii) She had told the Tribunal that only one file was given to her by the lecturer, contradicting her claim in the notice of appeal that she had been given more than one file.
(iv) She told the Tribunal that, when the lecturer gave her the file, she explained that the police were looking for it, which contradicted her earlier statements in the notice of appeal and at the s. 11 interview that she only found out about this some time after she had been handed the file.
(v) She told the Tribunal that she disposed of the file in a bin immediately on the day she had been given it by the lecturer, contradicting a statement in the notice of appeal that she only did so after some time and, moreover, had thrown it on the roadside.
(vi) She told the Tribunal that the police never approached or questioned her brother after they released him, contradicting what she said in her questionnaire, where she said he had been suspected of helping her to escape.
(vii) The Tribunal found it implausible that the applicant would have accepted the file from the lecturer, a person who was barely known to her, in circumstances where the lecturer told her that the file was causing her trouble and that the police were looking for it. The applicant’s solicitor sought to explain this by stating that the reason she took it was that the lecturer had been instrumental in significantly increasing her business, but the applicant had contradicted that claim.
(viii) The Tribunal found it incongruous that the only person who had been detained by the police about the file, i.e. the applicant’s brother, was the same person who assisted the applicant to leave Algeria, rather than seeking to leave himself.
(ix) The Tribunal noted that the applicant had never arrested the applicant and that her subjective fear of the authorities did not appear to be objectively well-founded.
(x) The Tribunal did not consider it credible that the police had interrogated her brother about her location, despite her living in the same house where they had arrested him.
(xi) The Tribunal considered her claim to have passed through immigration controls on a false passport without encountering any difficulties with trained immigration officers, to be implausible. It also noted that she claimed to have been unaware of the details contained on the passport.
(xii) The Tribunal considered the applicant’s failure to claim asylum in the countries she passed through en route to the State, including Italy, to undermine any objective aspect to the fear of persecution alleged by her.
(xiii) The Tribunal found that dual visa applications made by her to enter Ireland and the United Kingdom in 2008 were not coincidental and further undermined her credibility.

The court upheld the Tribunal’s decision.

Reasoning:
In embarking on its review, the court dealt with an argument which had not been raised in the statement of grounds, namely that the Tribunal had failed to draw the applicant’s attention to various inconsistencies and contradictions in her evidence. It noted that the applicant had been legally represented at the appeal hearing and considered that, in all the circumstances, the Tribunal was entitled to have regard when assessing credibility to the contradictions in her evidence to it and that given by her at the earlier stage of the asylum process.

Turning to the substantive findings, the court began by rejecting a submission that the applicant’s core claim had not been addressed by the Tribunal.

The court then examined each of the findings made by the Tribunal. With regard to finding (i), it held that the Tribunal was entitled to consider the difference between the evidence tendered at hearing and the prior versions given by her at the earlier stage of the s. 11 interview. It reached a similar view on findings (iv) and (v), holding that they went to the core of the claim. It considered that findings (ii) and (iii) were minor matters and would ordinarily have to be made with caution, but that in the instant case, the Tribunal was entitled to have regard to them given the large number of adverse credibility findings relating to the core claim. It upheld finding (vi), noting a blatant contradiction identified by it in the applicant’s evidence. Finding (vii), it held, was open to the Tribunal on the evidence before it. It held that it was equally entitled to reject the economic/financial imperative explanation advanced by the applicant’s solicitor as to why the applicant took the file, given that the applicant’s own evidence to the Tribunal contradicted that argument. With regard to a complaint that that particular issue had not been put to the applicant, the court noted that there was no requirement for the Tribunal to debate its credibility findings with the applicant and that she was on notice from the Commissioner’s s. 13 report that that aspect of her claim had been found to lack credibility. The court held that finding (viii) had an evidential basis, namely the applicant’s evidence of her brother’s alleged arrest and torture by the Algerian police. Whilst the court had difficulty identifying the rationale in finding (ix), it held that it had been superseded by the rational basis for finding (x). The court upheld for the most part findings (xi) and (xii). Noting the applicant’s assertion that she was unaware of the details on the passport she used to pass through immigration control, it held that common sense would dictate that she would have some knowledge of the details on it, lest she be asked questions as she transited immigration control. It did not, however, believe that the Tribunal was entitled to consider it implausible that the applicant could have gone through immigration control on a false passport, considering it conceivable that that could have happened. However, that was not sufficient to vitiate the decision. It adopted the same approach in relation to what appeared to be a finding that the applicant had not provided a reasonable explanation for the claim, which the court held had never been made, that Ireland was the first safe country she had arrived in since leaving Algeria. Finally, the court held that the visa applications in 2008 were something that the Tribunal was entitled to take into account, in the round.

The court rejected the applicant’s argument that the Tribunal had erred in not taking into account country of origin information. It noted that the case was not one where a large amount of country of origin information had been submitted to the Tribunal; rather, specific reference had been made to one report in the notice of appeal submissions. The court noted that the Tribunal had indicated that it had had regard to the information and held that, there being a fundamental lack of credibility in the claim, there was no possible benefit to be derived from seeing whether the applicant’s story fitted into a factual context in her country of origin.

Decision:
Holding that it was obliged to respect the cumulative effect of the findings on the Tribunal, the court upheld its decision.

Principles:

A protection decision-maker is entitled to consider the difference between evidence tendered by a protection applicant at various stages of the asylum process when assessing credibility. It is also entitled to discount the plausibility of statements made by such an applicant if they conflict with other statements given by that person.

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