Friday, September 2, 2011


In an opinion piece in today’s Irish Times, Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness highlights the staggering backlog of 1,400 asylum and immigration cases waiting to be heard in the High Court and calls for a robust asylum system that will save time, money and promote fairness.

Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness highlights the serious shortcomings of the current asylum process. She notes that the Refugee Appeals Tribunal affirms more than 95 per cent negative decisions; it lacks transparency, independence and proper reasoning in its decisions. This gives rise to the high number of aggrieved applicant seeking redress by way of judicial review in the High Court. 

There are delays of approximately 27 months for initial hearing of such cases in the High Court.  The current system is most disastrous for the applicants with genuinely strong cases, such that they should have been granted refugee status at the outset but through errors on the part of the Tribunal Member, their application was wrongfully refused. There are many asylum applicants from countries such as Somalia, Afghanistan and Sudan, who have come from situations of serious harm or torture, and they are now caught in an administrative nightmare of waiting in High Court lists, while living in state funded direct provision accommodation centres.  These applicants will be left waiting for many years. 

In one case taken by this office, our client has gone through the whole High Court Judicial Review process on two occasions, and is now awaiting a third determination by the Refugee Appeals Tribunal. We have no doubt to the genuine nature of his case, but very unfortunately for this man, he has had two very poor quality Tribunal decisions and has been in the system for many years. There are many more asylum seekers like him.

It is well established that such seemingly endless waiting periods can have serious impacts on the mental well being of asylum seekers. However, there is little point in raising such points in the High Court in attempt to have certain vulnerable applicants’ case accelerated with priority. It has been indicated by one of the High Court judges that anything bar a life-threatening illness would fail to achieve priority in the List.

Such a system creates a profound sense of hopelessness, if not depression, amongst the applicants who are waiting years to have their cases heard. The situation in Ireland in respect of these delays is now worse than in Greece, a country which was recently found by the European Court of Human Rights to be so bad that asylum seekers could not obtain a fair hearing and that asylum seekers should not be transferred from other Member States to Greece.

We therefore welcome and support the comments of Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness. Without political intervention and comprehensive new immigration and asylum legislation, it seems that Ireland, like Greece, may be held up before the European Court of Human Rights as a State acting in systematic breach of the fundamental rights of asylum seeker applicants.

Brophy Solicitors

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