Asylum appeal reform would cut costs, says ex-judge

 

AN INDEPENDENT and transparent asylum and immigration appeals system would greatly reduce the human and financial cost of the current system, former Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness has said.

The “culture of disbelief” in the refugee and asylum system must change if the system was to become fair and transparent, she said yesterday at the launch of a “Roadmap for Asylum Reform” by the Irish Refugee Council, of which she is the patron.

Her proposal would involve a single protection procedure, with early legal advice, which would assess whether a person is entitled to protection in Ireland arising from different international obligations and an independent and transparent appeals system.

In 2010 only 1.1 per cent of asylum applicants were granted refugee status by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner – the lowest figure in Europe. Later, 94 per cent of the negative decisions were upheld by the Refugee Appeals Tribunal.

Ms Justice McGuinness said her experience as a judge was of a seemingly endless asylum judicial review list. Judicial reviews are an examination of the way in which a decision is made, rather than an appeal against the decision, she noted. “That a system could produce so many judicial reviews meant there had to be something wrong,” she said.

One of the main problems was the lack of transparency in the system. “From the Star Chamber onwards we have always known that hidden justice is not justice,” she said.

She was part of a council delegation to a pilot appeals scheme of the UK Border Agency in Birmingham recently. Anyone could walk into the appeal court and hear what the judge there was saying in a clear and open way. “I see no reasons why we would could not follow that example here,” she said.

An independent and transparent appeals system would reduce the number of judicial reviews, and therefore costs. A single protection procedure would shorten the decision-making period and the time people spent in direct provision accommodation, incurring associated costs.

Council chief executive Sue Conlon said the reintroduction of the 2010 Immigration and Protection Bill in the Dáil, along with 300 amendments to be proposed by the Minister for Justice, offered an opportunity to re-examine the system.

She said Minister for Justice Alan Shatter had been very critical of the system when in opposition, and said he was open to suggestions for change.

Nothing the council was proposing would add to the costs of the system, and could lead to reductions.

The issue was where the costs arose, she said. If you put money into a fair system of first decision and an independent and transparent appeals system, you would save money later by reducing the number of judicial reviews and the cost of direct provision.

Each person in direct provision cost €13,000 a year and more than 2,000 people were there for more than 36 months. While the number of people seeking asylum was falling, the number of judicial reviews was increasing.