Asylum Seeker Credibility – Landmark Ruling on Expert Medical Evidence

Credibility is often an issue in asylum cases. It can be a tough indictment on nervous victims of persecution and torture, terrified at having to function in a milieu of transparency, after having hidden themselves for so long!  How do you come out openly in your attempt to seek asylum in a safe country, after years of secrecy and fear, and then still have to prove to an (often hostile) adjudicator that you are lesbian or gay or bi-sexual. Well there are a host of ways to effectively portray credibility. And there is a way to present evidence. Often that is what experts are used for. Each story is unique. Authenticity is key – and there are certainly ways to flush out truth – again, this is where experts come in – we have out jobs cut out for us. As an expert witness for country conditions reports, I have a keen eye to make my own assessment with questions and by reading between the lines of each unique story.  As an expert, I am not the adjudicator, but I am able to seek elements of stories and connect them to conditions in a country, asserting fact and proving truth.  If I am unable to do this in a given case, I have to stand aside.  That has yet to happen. Imagine the profound hurt and insult when an adjudicator/ interviewer in the immigration authority who has known you for less than one hour decides in their opinion you are not a lesbian! Imagine that! Imagine someone behind a desk having THAT kind of power – to adjudicate on the very core of your being and then having such an extraordinary impact on your life. Well this is what is currently happening  in several countries around the world. At African HRC we are trying to pursue several related rejection appeals – and it is hell for the asylum seekers. There will be more about this later. That said- this…

It brings me to a recent ruling in the UK courts where a torture victim seeking asylum was accused of self har. His case has lead just this month to a critical ruling:

Tens of thousands of torture survivors could find it easier to secure sanctuary in the UK after a ruling by the supreme court.

In a landmark decision on Wednesday, the court overturned a previous finding that an asylum seeker from Sri Lanka organised his own torture to strengthen his claim to stay in Britain.

It also said more weight should be given to expert medical evidence when determining torture claims from asylum seekers, in effect instructing the Home Office and immigration tribunal judges to follow the Istanbul protocol(pdf), an established international standard on torture cases.

The judgment, thought to be the first of its kind in the world, will be viewed as another blow to the Home Office’s so-called compliant environment policy, the new name given to the “hostile environment” after the Windrush scandal.

It is expected to make it harder for the Home Office to say that accounts of torture are not credible where there is strong medical evidence to the contrary.

The case involved a 36-year-old Tamil man, referred to as KV, whose medical evidence that he was tortured was rejected by the Home Office and the lower courts.

KV was supported by three organisations with expertise in assessing evidence of torture – Freedom from Torture, the Helen Bamber Foundationand Medical Justice.


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