The Applicant, a Belarusian citizen, claimed asylum in Ireland for political reasons. The Refugee Applications Commissioner recommended that he not be declared a refugee and his appeal against this recommendation to the Refugee Appeals Tribunal (RAT) was unsuccessful. He took issue with the RAT’s analysis of his credibility and sought to have its decision quashed by way of judicial review.
The Court set out ten principles which it identified from previous case law as a guide to the manner in which evidence going to credibility ought to be treated by the RAT:
- The determination as to whether a claim to a well founded fear of persecution is credible falls to be made under the Refugee Act 1996 by the RAT and not by the Court. The High Court on judicial review must not succumb to the temptation or fall into the trap of substituting its own view for that of the primary decision-makers.
- On judicial review the function and jurisdiction of the High Court is confined to ensuring that the process by which the determination is made is legally sound and is not vitiated by any material error of law, infringement of any applicable statutory provision or of any principle of natural or constitutional justice.
- There are two facets to the issue of credibility, one subjective and the other objective. An applicant must first show that he or she has a genuine fear of persecution for a Convention reason. The second element involves assessing whether that subjective fear is objectively justified or reasonable and thus well founded.
- The assessment of credibility must be made by reference to the full picture that emerges from the available evidence and information taken as a whole, when rationally analysed and fairly weighed. It must not be based on a perceived, correct instinct or gut feeling as to whether the truth is or is not being told.
- A finding of lack of credibility must be based on correct facts, untainted by conjecture or speculation and the reasons drawn from such facts must be cogent and bear a legitimate connection to the adverse finding.
- The reasons must relate to the substantive basis of the claim made and not to minor matters or to facts which are merely incidental in the account given.
- A mistake as to one or even more facts will not necessarily vitiate a conclusion as to lack of credibility provided the conclusion is tenably sustained by other correct facts. Nevertheless, an adverse finding based on a single fact will not necessarily justify a denial of credibility generally to the claim.
- When subjected to judicial review, a decision on credibility must be read as a whole and the Court should be wary of attempts to deconstruct an overall conclusion by subjecting its individual parts to isolated examination in disregard of the cumulative impression made upon the decision-maker especially where the conclusion takes particular account of the demeanour and reaction of an applicant when testifying in person.
- Where an adverse finding involves discounting or rejecting documentary evidence or information relied upon in support of a claim and which is prima facie relevant to a fact or event pertinent to a material aspect of the credibility issue, the reasons for that rejection should be stated.
- Nevertheless, there is no general obligation in all cases to refer in a decision on credibility to every item of evidence and to every argument advanced, provided the reasons stated enable the applicant as addressee, and the Court in exercise of its judicial review function, to understand the substantive basis for the conclusion on credibility and the process of analysis or evaluation by which it has been reached.
In applying these principles to the Applicant’s case, the Court found that the decision of the RAT was fundamentally flawed because the documentary evidence which had been expressly relied upon before the Commissioner and in the Notice of Appeal, and which was on its face relevant to the events on which credibility depended, was ignored, not considered and not mentioned in the decision of the RAT. The Court stated that where, as in the Applicant’s case, documentary evidence of manifest relevance and of potential probative force is adduced and relied upon, the Tribunal is under a duty in law to consider it and if it is discounted or rejected as unauthentic or unreliable or otherwise lacking probative value, there is a duty to state the reason for that finding. Accordingly, the Court quashed the decision of the RAT.