Proving Torture

People who have survived torture are being disbelieved and denied asylum by the Home Office, even when they have independent medical evidence.

Demanding the impossible: Home Office mistreatment of expert medical evidence of torture

Our 2016 report, Proving Torture, revealed that Home Office caseworkers were routinely mishandling medical evidence of torture in asylum claims. It also showed that caseworkers were making clinical judgements about a person's injuries they were not qualified to make.

Since November 2016, we have led a campaign to hold the Home Office accountable for these failings, which as well as meaning people do not get the protection they need, also go against Home Office policy.

Poor decisions cause years of uncertainty and unnecessary distress for people that have survived torture. Many fear they could be returned to their torturers. Legal appeals are harrowing for them and costly to UK taxpayers.

Our Proving Torture research

Our clinicians document torture scars and psychological trauma in line with international standards as part of a torture survivor’s asylum claim. These documents are called medico-legal reports.

Our Proving Torture report analysed how 50 medico-legal reports documenting evidence of torture were treated by asylum caseworkers at the UK Home Office.

Our research revealed that existing policy guidance was not being followed and that our reports were not being used correctly.

Key points

  • In 74% of cases, the caseworker substituted their own opinion for that of the medical expert on the cause of injuries.
  • 76% of rejected asylum claims were overturned in court (for cases where the final outcome is known).
  • In 84% of cases, the caseworker had already decided that the person's story wasn't credible and dismissed the medical evidence of torture
  • In 30% of cases, the caseworker disputed or questioned the qualifications or expertise of doctors.
  • In 54% of cases, the caseworkers showed a poor understanding of how the Istanbul Protocol applies to torture claims. 
  • 100% of cases involve the caseworker failing to apply the appropriate standard of proof to establish a past history of detention and torture.

Campaign achievements

  • 41,000 signatures supporting our petition to the Home Office calling for a fair asylum system, and proper protections for torture survivors.
  • Westminster Hall debate on the serious issues raised by “Proving Torture”, with a number of MPs on all sides joining our call for torture survivors to get the help they need.
  • Public commitment from the previous Immigration Minister that the Home Office will work with us to help survivors
  • We have helped the Home Office design training on how to use medical evidence of torture in asylum claims. All Home Office caseworkers who decide these types of cases now have to have our training and their decisions have to be reviewed. 

"I can assure Members that we are committed to getting decisions right the first time and to working with expert organisations such as Freedom from Torture to ensure that survivors of torture get the support they need."

  • 6,000 emails to MPs from supporters calling for a Home Affairs Committee inquiry, to make sure that the Home Office follow through on their promises. Over 80 MPs have written to the Home Affairs Committee or raised concerns with the Home Secretary or Immigration Minister.