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Freedom from Torture says Home Office mistreats expert medical evidence of torture

Date of Publication: 
21 November 2016

Report finds asylum caseworkers are too often dispensing with the expert views of doctors

Freedom from Torture says Home Office mistreats expert medical evidence of torture

21 November 2016

Freedom from Torture has said in a report released today that Home Office asylum caseworkers are disregarding or mistreating expert medical evidence of torture.

The 79-page report 'Proving Torture' is available here.

The report provides a detailed analysis of how a cohort of 50 expert medico-legal reports documenting physical and psychological evidence of torture were treated by Home Office asylum caseworkers.

Freedom from Torture's Sonya Sceats told the BBC that the report found that caseworkers were too often dispensing with the expert views of doctors when considering evidence of torture and were instead substituting in their own views, despite being entirely unqualified to make such judgements.

Freedom from Torture says this goes against a clear Home Office policy.

The key findings given in the report are as follows:

• Survivors seeking asylum in the UK can find it almost impossible to prove to the Home Office that they were tortured: This happens even when they present extensive expert medical evidence, which is often disregarded or mistreated. The Home Office frequently demands a level of certainty in this evidence that is unattainable, going far beyond the legal standard of proof that applies to asylum claims.

• Being disbelieved and having their medical evidence mishandled can be catastrophic for torture survivors: They know that when the wrong decision is made, they could be forced to return to further torture Harrowing legal appeals also prolong their psychological trauma which impedes their chances of rehabilitation and social integration.

• Too many Home Office decisions with medical evidence of torture are poor and have to be corrected by judges – at considerable cost to tax payers: In 76% of cases in our research for which the final outcome is known, the person was granted asylum following a successful legal appeal. The average success rate for asylum appeals is 30%. This indicates a serious problem with Home Office handling of asylum claims by torture survivors.

• Asylum caseworkers without any clinical qualifications often replace the expert opinion of a medical doctor with their own speculation about clinical matters: Our research suggests that many asylum caseworkers see medical evidence as an obstacle to be "got around" in justifying why the asylum claim should be refused. This undermines basic principles of British justice.

• This bad practice contravenes a clear Home Office policy on how to handle expert medical evidence of torture: The problem is that this policy is poorly Implemented. The Home Office has an excellent training programme to help caseworkers implement it correctly but has never rolled this out.

Responding to the report, a Home Office spokesman told the BBC: "This report is based on an exceptionally small sample - less than one tenth of a per cent - of the 52,000 asylum decisions taken over the respective time period. Asylum decision makers are required to consider and give equal weighting to all the evidence provided and our guidance clearly states that it is not their role to dispute clinical findings in medical reports."