Judges face ‘difficult task’ in asylum cases

Conference on asylum law told verifying asylum claims a ‘hugely difficult task’

Judges are forced to adjudicate on asylum applications pertaining to "far away countries of which we know little", a senior High Court judge has said.

Mr Justice Gerard Hogan paraphrased Neville Chamberlain's famous remarks in 1938 about Czechoslovakia in a speech in which he said it may be impossible to reconcile refugee law with family life.

Speaking at the European Database of Asylum Law conference in Dublin at the weekend, he said that delay was “unfortunately intrinsic in the asylum system” because of the difficulties in verifying claims.

He described it as a “hugely difficult task” for those involved in the system to ascertain “precisely what happened, to use Chamberlain’s words, in ‘far-away countries of which we know little’ three, four or five years ago”.


Mr Justice Hogan admitted that judges were asked to adjudicate on stories from countries where they “barely know what the capital is”.

Asylum judges were frequently presented with stories of things that happened many years ago in troubled spots throughout the world. “These countries could be true, but, equally, they could be fabrications.”

He pointed out that was very difficult to know one way or the other because evidence could not be called from the local militia or from others who might be able to corroborate.

Mr Justice Hogan said there was “no simple or straightforward answer” to the dilemma faced by judges when they were adjudicating on asylum applications.

“We’re faced with resolving two conflicting public policy options. We must not lose sight that there has to be, regrettably, a system of deportation if you are going to have an asylum system.”

Without a deportation option, the asylum system would break down, he added. However, the protection of family was “intrinsic to the European way of life”.

"It is very difficult to explain to a seven or eight-year-old, who has lived in Ireland all their life, that their father has been arrested and deported back to Nigeria or wherever."

He admitted that it was a huge problem and there was no judicial formula that would solve it. “It is a dilemma that simply will not go away and which the courts are forced to confront,” he added.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times