Monday afternoon marked the successful launch of Freedom from Torture's new Proving Torture campaign in Parliament. The event was hosted by Dr Tania Mathias MP and well attended by MPs from different parties and Freedom from Torture supporters.
The speakers highlighted findings of our new Proving Torture report, which exposes how medical evidence of torture is being mistreated by Home Office asylum caseworkers.
Dr Tania Mathias MP, Justice McCloskey, Dr Michael Wilks, Dr Lisa Cameron MP, Sir Edward Garnier QC MP, Sir Keir Starmer QC MP and Alistair Carmichael MP all spoke at the event and expressed their support for the campaign. The speakers also called for the Home Office to follow the campaign's recommendations and implement in full the excellent caseworker training programme that it already has written but never rolled out.
The new Proving Torture report analyses 50 cases and finds that existing Home Office policy guidance is not being followed and that expert medico-legal reports are poorly handled. The research found that in 74% of the cases, asylum caseworkers replaced the expert opinion of a medical doctor with their own speculation about clinical matters. In 76% of cases where the final outcome is known, asylum was granted following a successful legal appeal in the courts, causing great distress to torture survivors as well as significant cost to UK taxpayers.
"My journey started when I was taken from my home one evening and tortured. But that is not the part of the journey we are here today to talk about: we’re to talk about the obstacle that stops us fulfilling the objective of this treacherous journey; the ability to prove that you were tortured.
Torture leaves a survivor with a mental imprint, but the marks or scars are often invisible to the outside world.
If I’d have known that my words wouldn't be enough to secure protection, would I have been able to wait and gather tangible evidence to prove I was tortured? No. The window I had to escape was so tiny that any delay would have been fatal.
This is why medico-legal reports are so important, it is the only proof we have."
“Poor Home Office decision-making on these cases has a profoundly damaging impact on our clients who have to go through the trauma of having their case rejected and the fear of being returned to their torturers. It also undoes the benefits they have received from the therapy we have provided for them and it prevents them integrating into the UK society.
We are calling for two very simple things form the government today. The Home Office has a good policy in place that details well how medical evidence should be used by caseworkers. We are asking that these policies are implemented across the system. Furthermore, the Home Office in collaboration with Freedom from Torture developed a very good training package on how to use medical evidence but it was never rolled out, so we are asking that this now be rolled out to all caseworkers and decision makers”.
Freedom from Torture's Senior Policy Advisor Lucy Gregg said:
"The high turnout at the launch event was very encouraging and demonstrated a real cross party commitment to the issue. The event ended on a very positive note - the policy recommendations are strong, clear and attainable, and have garnered a body of support. Our next task will be in following up these recommendations and making sure the level of commitment for change does not drop."
The campaign has already been reported in several major media outlets including The Times and the BBC. You can also tune into Monday's Victoria Derbyshire programme on BBC2 from 1 hour 36 minutes to see interviews with Dr Juliet Cohen, Head of Doctors at Freedom from Torture, Dr Tania Mathias MP, and survivors of torture who have experienced the asylum system first hand.