2 August 2001 Edition

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Bad court decision for asylum seekers

Monday 31 July was another bad day for justice and human rights in Ireland. A Supreme Court judgement held that the Minister for Justice does not have to give any further reason for rejection of an asylum seeker's plea to remain in the state on humanitarian grounds than the fact that the original application and appeal for asylum had been rejected by the Appeals Tribunal.

The Tribunal is a departmental body, appointed by the Fianna Fáil minister, John O'Donoghue, to adjudicate claims to asylum. It is not a court of law, with established practises of sworn evidence from witnesses. Still less is the tribunal a court of law where the right to trial, or adjudication, by a jury of your peers, exists. The adjudication is often a matter of life and death for someone seeking asylum, who believes that persecution, torture, and death may result on return to his or her native country.

The head of the Tribunal, Peter Findlay SC, resigned from his position 18 months ago, saying that the system was a ``travesty of justice'' and constituted denial of the rights of asylum seekers.

The case brought by three asylum seekers before the Supreme Court last Monday relied heavily on the 1999 Refugee Act, which specifies that the minister must not only notify an asylum seeker of the proposal to deport him but also of ``the reasons'' for the order. And ``reasons'' is plural.

The refusal of application and the rejection of the subsequent appeal is only at best, one reason. The Act requires that more than one reason be given.

As it is, the asylum seekers who were notified of proposed deportation were told, in a standard letter, that ``the reasons for the minister's decision are that you are a person whose refugee status has been refused, and... that the minister is satisfied that the interests of public policy and the common good in maintaining the integrity of the asylum and immigration systems outweigh such features of your case as might tend to support your being granted leave to remain in the State''.

There are several disturbing features of this judgement. There is the absence of transparency in the decision process and there is the fact that to all intents and purposes, asylum seekers may actually be sent to their deaths, without knowing the reasons why. They also do not have the equal right of other people in this state to a trial or adjudication by jury, in a court of law.

Even more disturbing is the reference to ``the interests of public policy and the common good'' in the standard letter sent to those to be deported. If there are two reasons given in the letter, not one, then if the first is the fact that the tribunal has rejected the asylum seeker's application and appeal, then the second is that it is in the ``common good'' that he or she be deported and the tribunal's decisions respected.

``The reasons'' for the minister's rejection of an asylum seeker's claim to remain on humanitarian grounds reduce to firstly that the tribunal has rejected the asylum seeker's application, and secondly, that where this is the case, to maintain the integrity of the asylum process, this rejection must be upheld. This amnounts to no additional appeal based on humanitarian grounds whatsoever.

Monday's decision undoubtedly reinforces existing discriminatory treatment of asylum seekers in that they are not accorded equal rights to other people living in Ireland. This discrimination is evidenced clearly in the direct provision policy; the denial of the right to work and to education, which are internationally recognised human rights to be accorded to all. It is now also evidenced in the unequal right of access of asylum seekers to the court of appeal and the justice system in this country.

The case before the Supreme Court has held up hundreds of deportations. They will now proceed, irrespective of whether there is any safe place for a deportee to go to, irrespective of whether anyone cares.

Monday's judgement, in the interests of what Minister O'Donoghue holds to be the ``common good'', is a disturbing ruling indeed.

An Phoblacht
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