I noticed in the policy feed in the left panel on this blog that there was an item about the International Association of Refugee Law Judges (IARLJ). I clicked through and found some interesting papers have just been posted on their website from a conference in January 2009.
I don’t know a lot about this organisation, although I have had some contact with it in the past. They do like their international venues, and there is always a strong turn out amongst UK immigration judges, I’ve noticed. Mind you, much the same can be said of UK immigration lawyers and ECRE conferences. Although Berlin is certainly not Mexico City.
Anyway, there is an excellent and very long paper (I’ve uploaded all the papers in case they vanish – check the IARLJ website for updates) on vulnerable witnesses, including a decent section on children. The paper is expressed as ‘guidelines’, but I have no idea what force these guidelines are expected to have. Is it just guidance for members? Are they holding our the guidance as international best practice? There is certainly some good common sense about judges behaving themselves, not threatening witnesses and that sort of thing (a session I suspect skipped by one of the UK names I noticed on the website). However, there’s nothing terribly concrete and nothing that goes as far as the Tribunal Service practice direction presumption that vulnerable witnesses are not called to give evidence.
There’s a messy paper on medical reports. It is badly edited in its current incarnation, and as usual it focuses on judges telling doctors how to do their job. There’s very little if anything on judges paying proper attention to what doctors have to say, encouraging judges to recognise that publicly funded doctors do not have all the time in the world to read judge’s guidelines, nor on judges seeking to understand how doctors think rather than forcing doctors to express themselves in legal paradigms. There’s also nothing to encourage judges to attach more weight to reports from doctors who are not consultants but who might nevertheless have something useful to say. That said, if commissioning a private medical report the guidance available is very helpful to any doctor who wants his or her evidence to be given maximum weight.
There’s an even messier — almost impossible to read, in fact — paper on country guidance. It basically consists of a detailed analysis of NA v UK and an attempt to say that the approach of Strasbourg is the same as that of the previous IARLJ papers on this subject. I’m not quite so sure. The earlier IARLJ paper repeatedly emphasises evaluating the impartiality of the source. This is a factor, and rather an important one, but why re-state it in arguably four of the nine guidelines? Other issues do not receive the same re-emphasis although they are equally or more important. Strasbourg quite rightly simply says that the independence of the source is important. To my mind, the IARJL guidance betrays the obsession with undermining expert country information that permeates the UK’s AIT.
Also, the IARLJ paper forgets to mention or analyse how it was that Strasbourg ended up reaching a different conclusion to the UK’s AIT on the same issue, even though both were supposedly comprehensive and complete. What does it say about the principle of country guidance, where the superior court has to overturn the lower court’s factual judgements? That’s quite an omission as it is a rather interesting subject.
Lastly, there’s a paper by Patricia Milligan-Baldwin, very well known to London immigration lawyers and no doubt seared into the memory of many an ex client, on membership of a particular social group. It’s a comparison between different jurisdictions but doesn’t have much interesting to say (other than that it is understandable why Africans don’t claim asylum in the Czech Republic) and curiously omits to mention the massive House of Lords case of SSHD v K; Fornah v SSHD in the section on the UK.