TA and OJO (a minor) v Refugee Appeals Tribunal, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Ireland and the Attorney General

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Respondent/Defendant:Refugee Appeals Tribunal, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Ireland and the Attorney General
Court/s:High Court
Citation/s:[2014] IEHC 204
Nature of Proceedings:Judicial Review
Judgment Date/s:03 Apr 2014
Judge:MacEochaidh J.
Category:Refugee Law
Keywords:Asylum, Persecution, Refugee, Refugee (Convention), Refugee Law, Refugee Status
Country of Origin:Nigeria
URL:http://www.courts.ie/Judgments.nsf/0/BCF5B17194B1A3E280257CC5003680CF
Geographic Focus:Ireland

Facts:
The first and second named applicants were, respectively, a Nigerian mother and her son. She arrived in the State in 2006 and her son was born here that same year. She claimed to have fled Nigeria in fear of persecution from her mother-in-law and her husband, whom she claimed had been violent to her and had threatened to take custody of her children on a number of occasions, but had failed in each attempt. The second named applicant’s claim was based on that of his mother, who stated that if she returned to Nigeria, he would be taken from her by his father.

Having investigated their claim, the Refugee Applications Commissioner recommended that they not be declared refugees, and they appealed unsuccessfully to the Refugee Appeals Tribunal, whose decision they impugned in these proceedings.

Reasoning:
The court upheld the Tribunal’s decision, rejecting the complaints levelled against it.

The applicants complained that the Tribunal erred in finding that a document said to be a Nigerian statutory declaration of age acquired by the first named applicant served to undermine her claim, as it appeared to have been acquired prior to the problems which caused her to flee.

According to the Tribunal’s decision, the first named applicant was asked about the statutory declaration of age submitted by her. The decision observed that there was a discrepancy in her evidence as to who the declarant was, in that she had originally said he was a family friend, but later said he was her uncle and that, in fact, the declaration stated that the declarant was her brother. The Tribunal found that her evidence about the declaration of age was contradictory and confused, and undermined her credibility.

The court upheld the finding and held that there was nothing to suggest that the Tribunal had erred in making it. It noted that the first named applicant’s evidence was confused and somewhat contradictory. In particular, it noted that she had contradicted herself on the matter of why her uncle had obtained the declaration. It also rejected her claim that the passage of time led to her having difficulties in recalling the identity of the declarant on the declaration of age, noting that the declarant’s name and address was clearly printed on it.

The applicants also complained that the Tribunal failed to consider that the first named applicant’s friend told her husband that she was pregnant and that this resulted in his finding her and wanting to take the child away.

The court accepted the respondents’ submission that the Tribunal did not appear to have made any adverse credibility finding in relation to the change of interest exhibited by the husband in the child. The court took the view that the manner in which the first named applicant’s husband found out about her pregnancy was not particularly relevant to her claim and that nothing turned on that issue. It concluded that there was, accordingly, no error on the part of the Tribunal in that regard.

The applicants contended that the Tribunal had failed to take into account the statements made by the first named applicant in her interview with the Commissioner that she moved around Nigeria and that the Tribunal erred in stating that she had remained at her friend’s house in Abuja for three months before leaving.

The court rejected that argument, and held that the Tribunal had correctly recorded the evidence given by the first named applicant.

The applicants also complained that the Tribunal’s summary of the first named applicant’s problems with her husband ignored the threats and violence against her, compounded by a lack of state protection available in Nigeria, and that the Tribunal had failed to consider the entirety of the evidence adduced, including the country of origin information.

The court rejected those complaints. The Tribunal had considered the evidence and found that the first named applicant’s asserted fear of persecution from her husband was not objectively justified. It noted that he had tried to take her child on seven occasions and been unsuccessful on each occasion, observing that she had not given any satisfactory explanation for why all his attempts had failed. It also noted that the Tribunal had considered all the relevant information, including the country of origin information, and had also specifically noted the relevant portions of the latter in its decision, which had been brought to its attention by the applicants’ solicitor.

The applicants complained that the Tribunal had breached fair procedures in relying on adverse credibility findings which were not put to the first named applicant in order to give her an opportunity to explain herself.

The court rejected that complaint, noting that whilst caselaw required the Tribunal to give a reasonable opportunity to an applicant to know the matters likely to affect its decision, it was not required to enter into a debate with him or her.

The applicants also argued that the Tribunal had breached its duty to determine appeals within a reasonable time, and that the consequent delay had led to errors in her assessment of credibility and prejudiced the applicants.

The court held that the applicants had failed to show any prejudice to them, or to demonstrate the existence of any errors in the Tribunal’s assessment of their claim consequent upon what it termed a relatively short delay.

The court applied existing law to the effect that, in the absence of special or specific facts or factors capable of supporting a contention that an alleged delay rendered the decision unlawful or invalid, such delay could not of itself amount to a substantial ground for contending that the decision was invalid.

The court noted that the only argument made on behalf of the second named applicant was that the alleged errors in assessing the appeal of the first named applicant also undermined the determination that the second named applicant did not face a risk of future persecution on returning to Nigeria.

The court held that, as the Tribunal’s decision did not contain any errors, the claims of the second named applicant had to be rejected.

Decision:
Accordingly, the court refused the applicants’ application for leave to seek judicial review.

Principles:

A protection decision-maker is entitled to make an adverse credibility finding on an asylum application where contradictions and inconsistencies surround a material piece of evidence.

A protection decision-maker like the Tribunal is obliged to give a reasonable opportunity to an asylum applicant to know the matters likely to affect its decision on his or her claim, it is not required to enter into a debate with him or her.

Unless there are specific factors capable of supporting a contention that delay in making a determination on  protection application has rendered the eventual decision unlawful or invalid, such delay cannot, of itself, amount to a substantial ground for contending that the decision is invalid.

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