The Refugee Appeals Tribunal in Ireland

4 courtsThe Refugee Appeals Tribunal (RAT) determines whether a person is need need of asylum in Ireland. It is an appellate body, so that those who are not granted refugee status by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner (ORAC).  The RAT has come in for sustained criticims previously (for primers see hereherehere and here). In the High Court last month, Mrs Justice Maureen Harding Clark delivered judgment on how one Tribunal member of the RAT dealt with one particular case. In A.A.M.O (Sudan) v Refugee Appeals Tribunal, Clark J. began the decision:

Sometimes the Court is called upon to review a decision which is so unfair and irrational and contains so many errors that judicial review seems an inadequate remedy to redress the wrong perpetrated on an applicant. This is such a case.

The asylum seeking applicant (A.A) in this case was a Sudanese national (see here ) and had applied for asylum in Ireland in 2009. Mr A.A. was a medical doctor, was attacked by Sudanese security forces, had relocated but subsequently had to flee Sudan.  ORAC refused the applicant’s refugee claim, the applicant then appealed to the RAT. There were significant time delays and a final decision of the RAT was not issued until August 2011.  Mr A.A.’s claim for refugee status was rejected by the RAT.

Clark J outlines the significant evidence that the applicant was to rely on in making his refugee claim. The approach of one particular Tribunal Member (who unfortunately is not named in the decision) is summed up as follows:

  • Para 22: Nature of the ‘errors’ with RAT’s decision infected the legality, fairness and constitutionality of the decision;
  • Para 23: The sole reason for RAT rejecting the asylum claim, is that “the Tribunal Member simply did not like the applicant
  • Para 24. The Tribunal Member ignored evidence due to this personal dislike;
  • Para 26: The Tribunal Member is unfamiliar with very basic precepts of international and national law (i.e. suggesting Mr A.A  ‘internally relocate’ to an independent country (South Sudan)).
  • Paras 29-31: The Tribunal Member makes factually inaccurate comments and statements about Mr. A.A’s education (not that it was of any relevance to the refugee claim).

Mr A.A’s claim was then sent back to the RAT for decision before a different Tribunal Member, however Clarke J. did state:

It is hoped that the new appeal has been heard humanely and expeditiously.

Unfortunately, it seems that the applicant’s second hearing before the RAT also resulted in a negative decision, however before the applicant went to the High Court, the decision was revoked.

Publication of all decisions

While I must emphasise that this is one Tribunal member in one particular case, this is not the first time that concerns have been raised about the conduct and capabilities of members of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal (see here).  The issue of appointment to the Refugee Appeals Tribunal is still a live issue (and something I will not comment upon now), to immediately open itself up for transparent public comment, there needs to be publication of all past, current and future decisions of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal.  While this may not resolve all issues with the protection status determination system in Ireland, it will at least allow those tasked with making decisions, that their decisions will be accessible to the public. At the very least, it may minimise the need for the High Court to find that a decision is made on personal dislike rather than facts and law.  An immediate decision could be made by the Chairperson of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal, exercising legislative discretion that he has, to publish all decisions publicly. The RAT already has a database for some decisions (inaccessible to most of us).  It is simply not acceptable in 2014 that decisions (properly anonymised) cannot be accessible to everybody.

With thanks to Colm O’Dwyer for bringing attention to this decision. 

UPDATE 13/03/2014: In a very welcome move, the Chairperson of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal, has permitted all persons to register so as to access the decisions of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal. Full update and information on how to gain access to decisions can be found here.