High Court facing 4½-year asylum case backlog, conference hears

More than 1,000 cases waiting to be heard

Sophie Magennis, head of office with UNHCR in Ireland, said alternative dispute resolution could be considered as a way of reducing the backlog of cases at the High Court.. Photograph: Eric Luke

Sophie Magennis, head of office with UNHCR in Ireland, said alternative dispute resolution could be considered as a way of reducing the backlog of cases at the High Court.. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

It would take more than 4½ years to clear the backlog of 1,000 asylum cases in the High Court, a conference heard yesterday.

Delays in hearing appeals by asylum seekers whose applications for refugee status have been rejected are one of the reasons people spend extended periods in the direct provision system.

At a seminar on asylum law, the chairman of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal, Barry Magee, said he was open to ideas on how to reduce the number of legal challenges pending in the High Court.

Three judges are currently assigned to the High Court asylum list, where just over 1,000 cases are waiting to be heard. “It would take four years and seven months to get through the current cases on the list, without any new ones being added,” Mr Magee said.

Settled

He said the tribunal had recently reviewed all judicial reviews it had on hand. Having settled some cases and had others withdrawn, its list of pending cases was cut from 928 last August to 654 today.

“We say we have a defence in these cases, the applicant says the decision should be quashed and we need a judge to decide that,” he said.

“At this stage, I would be willing to explore anything because, in the absence of more judges being appointed to the High Court – that’s just not going to happen – is there any other mechanism to determine these cases? “

Between 2001 and 2013, the tribunal issued 38,377 decisions. According to its own database, the tribunal granted 14 per cent of the appeals it heard, meaning it recommended giving an applicant protection following an initial refusal by the State. The figures show 9 per cent of the tribunal’s decisions were challenged by way of judicial review, and 4 per cent were overturned by the courts.

“I think, anecdotally, people would think the rates are a lot higher, but that is actually what the figures are,” Mr Magee added.

He was speaking at a seminar organised by Nasc, the immigrant support centre, and UCD’s Sutherland school of law to mark World Refugee Day.

Sophie Magennis, head of office with UNHCR in Ireland, said alternative dispute resolution could be considered as a way of reducing the backlog of cases at the High Court.

She said Ireland’s refugee recognition rate rose to just over 18 per cent last year. “For Syrians, our information indicates that all are being recognised as in need of protection with the sole exceptions being cases of disputed nationality,” Ms Magennis added.

‘Fragmented’

Patricia Brazil, a barrister and law lecturer at Trinity College Dublin, said that given Ireland’s “fragmented” asylum system, which leads to multiple decisions concerning the same person, it might be seen as surprising that judicial review figures were not higher.

“Furthermore, given that the rate of recognition of refugees in Ireland at one point fell to 1.1 per cent, meaning that almost 99 per cent of applications were refused, can it really be surprising that this resulted in high levels of judicial review?” she said.

Similar, if not higher, rates of judicial review had been reported in England and Wales, she added.