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Never assume that the Secretary of State is aware of anything

Never assume that the Secretary of State is aware of anything

Further submissions are notoriously difficult to prepare. In PR (Sri Lanka), R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2017] EWCA Civ 1946 the Court of Appeal has highlighted the need for focussed representations that make specific reference to all evidence and country information being relied upon.

PR had his initial asylum appeal dismissed but with some positive credibility findings made by the judge. He made further submissions  relying on the country guidance given in the case of GJ (post-civil war: returnees) Sri Lanka CG (Rev 1) [2013] UKUT 319 (IAC), which post-dated the initial appeal dismissal, and a medical report indicating he was suffering from mental health problems.

The appellant argued that, not only were the specific country guidance findings and risk factors in GJ relevant to the assessment of the further submissions, but also that the Secretary of State should have taken into consideration additional aspects of the evidence considered in that case, “whether specifically relied upon by the Tribunal in its decision or not”. Certain passages of the evidence considered by the tribunal in GJ were referred to in argument.

PR submitted that these passages should have been accepted by the Secretary of State as determinative of the country situation in Sri Lanka when assessing his further submissions. The relevant evidence, from three expert witnesses, was contained in the appendices to the decision in GJ.

Lord Justice McCombe was not impressed by these arguments:

In my judgment… it is hard to see why the respondent could be at fault for failing to allude to matters which were not relied upon by the appellant in the submissions that had been made to her…Mr Mackenzie [counsel for the appellant] submitted that the respondent was required to be familiar with the GJ case generally. I agree, but the same is true of solicitors making submissions to the respondent. The respondent can hardly be blamed for focussing upon the specific risk categories identified in GJ in the context of the arguments that were actually presented to her on the appellant’s behalf.

McCombe LJ was also dubious about relying on evidence detailed in a tribunal decision but not obviously material to the tribunal’s decision

I would be cautious in accepting, as in any respect determinative, isolated passages of evidence, no doubt recited for completeness in that Tribunal decision, which appear to have played no part in its decision and upon which it passed no comment, and which, in at least one case, the Tribunal described as “speculation”.

Ultimately PR’s appeal was dismissed. The court held that the Secretary of State’s approach to the further submissions presented to her could not be criticised on rationality grounds. The Secretary of State focussed on the relevant risk categories identified by GJ and made an entirely rational decision based upon the evidence presented.

The message to be taken away from this decision is that the comprehensive preparation of further submissions is fundamentally important. It should never be assumed that the Secretary of State is aware of anything. Everything to be relied on must be included in the further submissions and specifically referred to. When preparing further submissions, it is best to start from the premise that the case will end up being forensically and critically examined by a judge as part of a judicial review – and to remember Alexander Graham Bell’s maxim: “before anything else, preparation is the key to success”.

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