Calls for reform of asylum appeals as legal bill hits €3m


ALMOST THREE-quarters of the expenditure of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal goes on legal costs arising from challenges to its decisions, according to its 2011 annual report.

The tribunal hears appeals from the first decision on an application for asylum, made by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner (Orac).

The tribunal spent €3,168,952 on legal fees in 2011 and €632,784 in fees to its members who hear appeals. The total budget for the tribunal, including office expenses, was €4,331,932, so that legal fees accounted for 73 per cent of all expenditure.

The report also shows that the majority of appeals were unsuccessful. In 2011, 93 per cent of the Orac decisions, where there was an oral hearing, were upheld, up from 75 per cent in 2001.

This figure rose to 98 per cent in relation to accelerated decisions, where there is no oral hearing. In 2001, 24 per cent of such appeals were successful, compared with 2 per cent last year.

In 2010, the last year for which Orac figures are available, only 1.1 per cent of asylum applicants were granted refugee status at first instance, the lowest figure in Europe. The combined record of the Orac and the tribunal has put Ireland at the bottom of the EU league for accepting refugees in recent years.

Meanwhile, the number of people seeking asylum continues to fall. The number of appeals completed by the tribunal in 2011 was 1,378, a drop of 53 per cent on the previous year, when there were 2,962. The total number of appeals received also fell, from 1,552 in 2010 to 1,106 in 2011.

Of the 1,250 Orac decisions upheld by the tribunal, 234 went to the High Court for judicial review.

Counsel must be briefed in such cases and, where the judicial review is successful or where it is withdrawn because the tribunal settles the case, the costs of the applicant are borne by the tribunal.

There is no breakdown of the €3.168 million in the annual report showing fees for the tribunal lawyers and for the applicants.

The Irish Refugee Council said that delays in reforming asylum appeals had contributed to costs of over €3 million last year, which were borne by taxpayers.

Council chief executive Sue Conlan said: “A key reason for the need for recourse to the courts is the lack of an effective remedy within an asylum system in which decisions are overwhelmingly negative. The inclusion of an effective independent appeal in the new Immigration Residence and Protection Bill would substantially reduce the need for expensive and lengthy judicial review proceedings.

“A robust, truly independent appeals body, in which justice was not only done but seen to be done, would mean that aggrieved applicants would reduce the need to turn to the courts,” Ms Conlan added.

She said the elements of an independent appeals system included independently appointed tribunal members; public hearings; clear, detailed and published procedural rules governing appeal hearings and the publication of decisions.