Give us more time, says barrister

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 July, 2013, 4:46am

Torture claimants should get an independent opinion of their mental health and their lawyers need more time to prepare their cases, a barrister experienced in handling torture claims said.

This will give them better protection and credibility because many claimants suffer from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder and cannot remember many events and may not recall incidents in order, said Robert Tibbo, who is also a non-executive director of Vision First.

An independent report can support their evidence, "as interviewers invariably do not believe what they say", he said.

As the Legislative Council starts a discussion to revamp the refugee status screening mechanism today, Tibbo has urged officials to set up a panel of mental health professionals comprising psychologists, psychiatrists and forensic pathologists.

The panel should be independent of the Immigration Department, which assesses the torture claims, he said.

The law required duty lawyers representing a torture claimant to prepare a case within 28 days on receiving a referral but this was inherently unfair, he added.

It took time for a traumatised claimant to organise his thoughts and recall events, especially if they had waited many years to be interviewed, he said.

The Immigration Department assesses torture claims after gathering information through questionnaires and interviews. A statutory board of retired judges hears appeals.

Claims for refugee status have been assessed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, but this is set to change.

A ruling by the Court of Final Appeal in March said the government must not rely on the UN agency to determine a person's refugee status. The administration is now working out a single mechanism to assess all the claims, which will include two new categories. One is persecution and the other is termed CIDTP - cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment.