Home Office whistleblowers reveal asylum decision-making ‘lottery’ with expert evidence of torture disregarded

Freedom from Torture is deeply concerned by a Guardian exposé featuring Home Office whistleblowers at the weekend, which reveals poor asylum decision-making and echoes many of the findings of our Proving Torture report.

According to the former caseworkers, the asylum process is a ‘lottery’ with overworked staff treating vulnerable people disrespectfully and pressured to make rushed, ‘cut and paste’ decisions. The whistleblowers also shared how asylum decisions depend on the personal views of the decision maker, such as their own conclusions on the cause of torture injuries, which concurs with our Proving Torture research. Our research analysed 50 cases and found that in three quarters the caseworker substituted their own opinion on the cause of torture injuries for that of the independent expert, ignoring Home Office policy, which clearly requires the caseworker to recognise the authority of the medical expert.

The Guardian cites an example of a man refused asylum despite independent medical evidence of torture, with the Home Office caseworker suggesting the scars may have been caused by karate training. The exposé reveals how poor decision-making is leading to a high rate of successful appeals, causing unimaginable distress to the asylum seeker who fears being returned to persecution, not to mention the cost to the public purse; similarly, our Proving Torture case set found that three quarters of asylum refusals were overturned on appeal.

Senior Policy Adviser, Sile Reynolds, said:

“These deeply worrying examples echo reports from our clients of the almost impossible task of proving to Home Office caseworkers that they have been tortured, even when they present extensive expert medical evidence.

“It’s also apparent that caseworkers are overworked and inadequately trained and supported to handle a huge volume of traumatic material and make a large number of decisions in a short timeframe. Following the failings identified by our Proving Torture research, the Home Office admitted that its current training module is not fit for purpose, and is working with us to develop a new module. We look forward to seeing significant improvements and will be calling for appropriate monitoring and evaluation to ensure these positive steps lead to better quality asylum decision-making.”