There are serious issues about the way our asylum system deals with claims of torture, including around the use of medical evidence. I was concerned to read in Freedom from Torture’s “Proving Torture” report that of the asylum cases the organisation looked at involving claims of torture, over three quarters eventually had a refusal by the Home Office overturned by a judge upon appeal. Clearly for those whose refusal was overturned the Appeal system appears to be robust, but the rate at which the original Home Office decisions are overturned is alarmingly high and this could indicate a serious problem in the handling of these cases by the Home Office. Most of the claims should never have been refused in the first place.
When allegations are made, it is vital that they are fully investigated and that there is confidence in the process and its outcome. The Government said earlier this year that it would review the cases that are referred to in Freedom from Torture’s report and I agree that political uncertainties must not be allowed to get in the way of reviewing and developing policies and training where necessary.
The UK has a proud history of helping people fleeing violence and persecution and we have both moral and legal obligations to vulnerable people seeking asylum. There must be no place for the use of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment anywhere in the world. In the pursuit of stopping torture from happening, it is therefore crucial that the UK sets an example as a country that respects and upholds its human rights commitments.
I know that Freedom from Torture is calling on the Home Affairs Committee to undertake an inquiry into the handling of medical evidence in asylum claims. Committees determine their own lines of inquiry, and I am not on that Committee, but I am hopeful that Freedom from Torture’s representations will be carefully considered.