Court of Appeal Finds Errors in F-tT's Assessment of Credibility in ASO (Iraq) vs Secretary of State for the Home Department

Citation: [2023] EWCA Civ 1282
Judgment on

Introduction

In the case of ASO (Iraq) v Secretary of State for the Home Department, the Court of Appeal (Civil Division) deliberated on an appeal against the Upper Tribunal’s decision to dismiss an appeal from the First-tier Tribunal’s determination. The case centered on an appellant’s asylum claim and the scrutiny of the credibility of his relationship with a girlfriend in the context of the risks upon return to Iraq. The judgment provides insightful elucidation on evaluating credibility and the application of relevant legal principles within the immigration and asylum context.

Key Facts

The appellant, ASO, claimed to have had a secret relationship with his girlfriend, S, which became known to her family, connected with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). After S was “forced to marry”, A facilitated her escape to a refuge for women’s protection. ASO’s family allegedly received threats because of his actions, and he feared violence if returned to Iraq. The First-tier Tribunal rejected ASO’s appeal from the Secretary of State’s decision to refuse his protection claim, doubting the credibility of his account and its consistency with the background material (Country Policy and Information Notes - CPINs). ASO’s appeal to the Upper Tribunal was also dismissed, leading to the case being brought before the Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal (CoA) identified and applied several key legal principles:

  1. Expertise of the First-tier Tribunal: The appellate courts must respect the special expertise of the F-tT and presume the correct application of the law unless misdirections are evident. They should be cautious in interfering with factual evaluations made by the specialist tribunals.

  2. Standard of Proof: Protection claims do not require proof of facts beyond reasonable doubt or a balance of probabilities. Claimants need to demonstrate a real risk of persecution based on the “low standard required” which is in line with the principle established in Karanarkaran v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2000].

  3. Assessment of Credibility: The tribunal must evaluate credibility based on the appellant’s consistency, the plausibility of their claims, and the coherence with the relevant background materials.

  4. Materiality of Errors: As outlined in Secretary of State for the Home Department v AJ (Angola) [2014], if an error of law in the F-tT’s decision is identified, it is material only if it can be shown that a rational tribunal would be bound to arrive at a different conclusion.

Outcomes

The CoA found that the UT erred in not addressing whether the F-tT made errors in law. It opined that the F-tT’s reasoning contained material errors concerning the assessment of credibility, specifically:

  • Misinterpretation of A’s claims against the background evidence from CPINs.
  • Erroneous conclusion on the credibility of A’s account regarding the marriage proposal and relationship with S.

The CoA stated that these errors impacted the overall conclusion to reject A’s claim. It was held that not every rational tribunal would necessarily come to the same conclusion on evaluating the claim, and therefore, the errors could not be considered immaterial.

Conclusion

The Court of Appeal decided that the F-tT’s determination contained material errors by misinterpreting the appellant’s claims against the background information and misjudged the appellant’s credibility. It concluded by stating that these errors were material to the outcome of the case, and the Upper Tribunal erred in law by overlooking them and deeming them superfluous. Consequently, the CoA allowed ASO’s appeal, signaling the need for meticulous scrutiny when interpreting claimants’ accounts against background evidence and assessing credibility within the confines of the immigration and asylum legal framework.

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