Appraisal system for asylum seekers unfair and slow, court told

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 May, 2008, 12:00am

People claiming to be fleeing from torture deserve to have their cases dealt with fairly and within a reasonable time, the Court of First Instance heard yesterday.

Not only was that not happening under the present assessment regime, but those making what could be life-and-death decisions were not adequately trained and were reliant on information passed to them by subordinates, the court was told.

The assertion came on the second day of a judicial review before Mr Justice John Saunders into the government's policies for assessing claims made under the UN's Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Nigel Kat, on behalf of a group of claimants under the convention, said the system in place since a Court of Final Appeal judgment mandated it in mid-2004 was procedurally unfair and terminally slow.

Mr Kat cited the case of a man known only as 'PBK' - a declared supporter and former fund-raiser of Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers - who with his family sought refugee status in Hong Kong in 2003 and later claimed protection under the convention.

PBK was interviewed 58 times by the Immigration Department between January 2004 and April 2006, and a decision was still not finalised. An affidavit filed by the department towards the end of 2005 said it was impossible to tell when a decision might be made because more information needed to be collected and PBK's claims verified.

'It lies ill in the mouth for the [department director] to say 'it is very difficult, it is very complex',' Mr Kat said. 'The director cannot say that he thinks he will get around to making a decision when the process is complete. There has to come a point where the process ends.

'A high level of fairness [as demanded by the UN convention] requires decisions to be made in a reasonable time.'

PBK's is one of six cases chosen to represent a pool of about 70 claims being dealt with by human rights law firm Barnes and Daly.

Mr Kat said the lack of a decision after so long was even more remarkable when it was considered that the Immigration Department had decided to return PBK just before the Court of Final Appeal forced the creation of the assessment system.

Of 200 or so cases that had actually been assessed, Mr Kat said, not a single one had succeeded. That statistic itself could create an impression that the playing field for applicants might not be entirely level.

'The system that has been chosen and implemented contains procedural unfairness,' Mr Kat said.

The hearing continues tomorrow.