Judgment Title: T. -v- MJELR & Anor
Composition of Court:
Judgment by: Cooke J.
Status of Judgment: Approved
Neutral Citation Number:  IEHC 484
THE HIGH COURT
2008 1372 JR
MINISTER FOR JUSTICE EQUALITY AND LAW REFORM AND
MARGARET LEVEY SITTING AS THE REFUGEE APPEALS TRIBUNAL
JUDGMENT of Mr. Justice Cooke delivered the 21st day of December 2011
1. The applicant is 31 year old Nigerian woman who applied for leave to seek a judicial review of an appeal decision of the second named respondent dated 29th October 2008 which affirmed a negative recommendation made on her application for asylum by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner in a Report dated 15th November 2007.
2. She arrived in the State in 2007, with her three year old daughter who was included in the asylum application. The mother gave a somewhat complex account of a life characterised by sexual abuse, rape, beatings and of being forcibly detained. The immediate source of her claim to fear persecution and serious harm in Nigeria was a man called “Tolu” who she said was someone who used to come as a customer to her mother’s shop. She claims that at the age of 23 she was raped by this man; that she got pregnant; that he tried to force her to have an abortion; but she refused and her daughter was born. Notwithstanding her account of having been raped by Tolu there was continuing contact with him, although his conduct was erratic and violent. She claimed that when her mother opposed the abortion Tolu had her (the mother) arrested upon a false charge of assisting the applicant in running away with his child. The applicant nevertheless agreed to go with him to Port Harcourt and moved in with him in November 2004. She found that he was involved in a secret cult. She claimed that in March 2007, he again tried to rape her and was attacked by him with a knife. On another occasion she said he hit her while she was cooking and hot oil burned her on the arm. He is alleged to have threatened that when the child was three years old he would have the child circumcised. She claimed that she moved with her mother to Lagos, but that Tolu followed her there. A friend of her mother’s suggested the move to Minna in Niger state. A family that were friendly with there, said they would help her and arranged to get documents for her including tickets and American passports, which enabled them to travel with a woman called Ruth in October 2007, arriving in Dublin on the 26th October.
3. An oral hearing took place before the Tribunal on the 7th October, 2008, at which the applicant was represented by solicitor and counsel. In section 3 of the Tribunal decision, the account given by the applicant as the basis for the asylum claim is set out in some considerable detail over three pages and includes comments on some of her replies under cross examination at the oral hearing.
4. The operative part of the Tribunal decision is characterised by a lengthy, detailed and forthright analysis of the credibility of the applicant’s account set out in section 6 of the decision over seven pages. A large number of specific facts and events in the applicant’s story are singled out and explicitly discredited. The Tribunal member introduces this analysis in the general conclusion: “I do not accept that there is a genuine fear in the mind of the applicant. The entire claim is internally inconsistent and makes little or no sense”. This is then justified by the specific criticisms including the following:-
(b) In relation to the account of Tolu having the mother arrested and their pleas with him to get her released the Tribunal member comments: “She gave different versions of this release and how it came about. In interview she said the police saw her when she went with this Tolu to the station to have her mother released. At the hearing she said she did not go to the police, but directly to him as the police would have arrested her if she had gone to them”.
(c) In relation to the conduct of Tolu, his erratic behaviour and violence, the Tribunal member comments: “the vacillating behaviour of this individual (if it was occurring in the manner alleged by the applicant and I do not accept that it was occurring at all), sets this person apart as an erratic if not deranged individual . . . that she would be constantly getting in touch with this individual in the light of firstly the rape, but in addition to that, this bizarre behaviour is just not credible”.
(d) On her going to Port Harcourt with Tolu and then moving in with him in November 2004, but told that she was to hide if anyone called so that no one would see her, the Tribunal member comments: “The fact that she engaged in any dialogue with the rapist in the first place beggars belief. . . . The fact that he allegedly threatened to take the child (which he originally did not want but then changed his mind) in the context of not wanting anyone to know about her existence makes no sense either”.
(e) On the question of Tolu’s involvement with the clandestine militant and occult group which met in his house, the Tribunal member comments: “All of this cloak and dagger business is entirely unnecessary when everybody knows everybody else”.
8. In arguing the case, counsel for the applicant initially endeavoured to expand the challenge by submitting that in the particular circumstances of the case, the Tribunal member did not in fact have jurisdiction to examine the question of credibility at all or had, in the alternative, breached the principle of fair procedures. This submission was based upon the proposition that the applicant’s credibility had been fully accepted in the s. 13 report and that the negative recommendation had been made entirely on the basis of the availability of state protection and internal relocation. It was on that basis that the notice of appeal had been lodged directed exclusively at those two aspects of the report. On that basis it was argued that the Tribunal member had no jurisdiction to re-examine the question of credibility or that, in the alternative, if this was to be done, advance notice should have been given to the applicant if a breach of the principle of fair procedures was to be avoided.
9. The Court considers that this argument is both inadmissible and unfounded. In the first place, none of the 22 grounds pleaded in the statement of grounds is formulated in a way which would cover such an argument. Furthermore, the argument is not addressed in the written legal submissions lodged.
10. Thirdly, the Court considers it questionable that the s. 13 Report should be construed as accepting the applicant’s credibility in its entirety. In a number of places in the report direct questions of lack of credibility are mentioned. “She claims that despite of over 120 million living in Nigeria that he would still be able to find her. This is not considered credible”. (Para.4.2.1), “. . . it appears from the applicant’s testimony that Tolu would have to have been extremely and motivated to find her if it meant there could be no place she could live in safety in Nigeria. However, if that was the case, then it does not appear credible that the applicant would not be sure why Tolu would want her either killed or back living with him so much”. (Para. 4.2.2). While it is true as counsel for the applicant suggests that these observations are made in connection with questions as to whether the applicant could have evaded her alleged tormentor, the Court reads the report as going further and is indicating a more general questioning of the account as a whole.
11. Thirdly, even if there could be said to be some doubt as to whether credibility in its entirety was being questioned in the report, an allegation of lack of fair procedures on the part of the Tribunal member could not, in the view of the Court, be maintained without some explanation as to what happened at the oral hearing where the applicant was represented by solicitor and counsel. Apart from the few references in the decision itself, this Court has no evidence as to what transpired at the oral hearing. If the argument was valid and either the presenting officer or the Tribunal member had sought to reopen the question of credibility, it would have been open to the legal representatives of the applicant to object upon that ground or, at least, to call for an adjournment in order to prepare to answer it by taking further instructions from the applicant. In support of the argument, reliance was placed upon the judgment of McGovern J. in M.N. v RAT and Others (Unreported, High Court, 28th June, 2007). That, however, was a case in which there was no oral hearing and in which the Commissioner had made the Report upon the basis that the applicant feared persecution in Zimbabwe and the Tribunal appeal was, without prior notice, determined upon the basis that the applicant might be repatriated safely to South Africa.
12. Fourthly, and in any event, it is well settled that the appeal before the Tribunal is a second stage re-examination at the request of the applicant of the asylum application. This Court has dealt with the point on a number of occasions. In O.A. v. RAT  IEHC 296, the Court held: “the appeal takes the form of rehearing on which the applicant is entitled to challenge the content of the report; to contest any findings it purports to make; to adduce new evidence including new country of origin information in rebuttal, and to require that a fresh assessment as to credibility of his claim is made where credibility has been put in issue in the report”. In T.T.A. v. Refugee Applications Commissioner  IEHC 215, the Court described the asylum process as having two stages and that:-
14. In the judgment of the Court this is a quintessential example of such a situation. The findings very clearly made and cogently expressed in the Tribunal decision were clearly open to the Tribunal member. As such there are findings on credibility with which this Court cannot interfere. In the judgment of the Court the attempts made to dissect and analyse the specific instances of implausibility identified by the Tribunal member do not give rise to any substantial ground for questioning the overall assessment made in the decision.
15. Thus, for example, the criticism point mentioned at paragraph 4 (b) above – the reference to different versions of the account of her mother’s release – is dependent upon treating as ambiguous an answer given by the applicant to a question recorded at page 11 of the s. 11 interview and then suggesting she was trying to convey something different. In fact the answer in question is reasonably clear and different from the later version in the at she said: “When we went back to Lagos and begged Tolu to tell the police to release her, as Tolu was the only one who could tell them to release her, and we went to the police station and they saw me, that I was pregnant, that Tolu had told them the wrong story, that he had told them he had a child, didn’t matter to them, they still did what he wanted.”
16. The other points identified by the Tribunal member are, in the view of the Court, instances of the application by the Tribunal member of common sense to different aspects of the story told and as such within the competence of the decision maker in making an overall appraisal of the veracity and reliability of the claim made.
17. The application is refused.