In asylum and criminal deportation and probably all areas of immigration, credibility is the key.
Some of my own techniques for building credibility into a statement include:
- I “read” or “watch” the client’s narrative like a novel or a film. I then ask whatever question springs to mind to make sense of the film I’m watching/novel I’m reading, filling holes in the narrative and providing explanations where needed. To the reader/watcher, there’s a flow to credibility. Stilted accounts can sound like lies. “Flow” feels like truth.
- Google the facts that the client is telling you as you go along. I very frequently (within reason) copy and paste from Google at relevant points in a statement to support what the client is saying and so that the reader immediately understands that the client’s views, thoughts or facts are objectively true.
- Decide how you’re going to portray your client. If, for example, they are well educated, their “voice” in the statement must come across as intelligent, serious and knowledgeable. If on the other hand the client is uneducated and vulnerable, that should come across either in their statement or any witness statements about them.
Remember that you control the words that go into the statement. The facts and words must be true and agreed by the client – but if the client’s or interpreter’s words come across as incoherent or confused, it’s up to you to establish what is being said and make sure those true facts are presented in the statement in a coherent and sensible manner.
That said, the clients have to live up to the statements. It is pointless writing a statement that comes across as super intellectual for a client who won’t come across like that at interview or at appeal.
Another part of our role is to help the client “educate” the asylum interviewer, caseowner or judge about the specific country situation where relevant. Don’t hesitate to appropriately and helpfully explain, teach and include googled sources.
Remember that the asylum caseowner’s job is (or so it seems) to spot holes in our clients’ accounts and then jump on them to cast doubt on the person’s credibility. It’s our job to foresee potential holes and help the client plug them.
While that exercise helps the client credibly explain themselves, remember also that you’re not a Home Office interviewer trying to catch the client out. You are the client’s advocate, the statement driver, helping them present their protection claim and helping them to get to safety.
Ask questions. Questions are like keys that unlock information. Be really inquisitive. I became a “specialist” in Palestinian asylum cases by asking my clients lots and lots of questions, from the most basic to the most complex (Who is Yasser Arafat? Where is Palestine?). Google as you go along so that you’re educating yourself as well as the decision-maker.
Statements are dynamic and case/person-specific. Enjoy putting them together. Enjoy taking instructions from your clients. Be interested in their lives, in the social and political context in which they were raised.
Great cases don’t walk through your door ready-made. Great cases are built by the lawyer.
PS: Where Article 8 is your strongest element, make them cry.