UK Supreme Court verdict on Sri Lankan LTTE supporter deals fresh blow to British immigration policy

Saturday, 9 March 2019 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Tens of thousands of torture survivors could find it easier to secure sanctuary in the UK after a ruling by the Supreme Court.

In a landmark decision on Wednesday, the Court overturned a previous finding that an asylum seeker from Sri Lanka organised his own torture to strengthen his claim to stay in Britain.

It also said more weight should be given to expert medical evidence when determining torture claims from asylum seekers, in effect instructing the Home Office and immigration tribunal judges to follow the Istanbul protocol, an established international standard on torture cases.

The judgment, thought to be the first of its kind in the world, will be viewed as another blow to the Home Office’s so-called compliant environment policy, the new name given to the ‘hostile environment’ after the Windrush scandal.

It is expected to make it harder for the Home Office to say that accounts of torture are not credible where there is strong medical evidence to the contrary.The case involved a 36-year-old Tamil man, referred to as KV, whose medical evidence that he was tortured was rejected by the Home Office and the lower courts.

While it was accepted that his scars were caused by being branded with a hot metal rod on his back and arm, Court of Appeal judges accepted that the injuries were “self-inflicted by proxy” and rejected an assessment from a medical expert saying that he found the scarring consistent with KV’s account of being tortured by the Sri Lankan authorities.

In the Supreme Court judgment, Lord Wilson endorsed a dissenting view from the Court of Appeal that “an individual is highly unlikely to want to suffer the continuing pain and discomfort resulting from self-inflicted harm”.

KV, who was peripherally involved with the Tamil Tigers separatist group and was detained by the military from 2009 to 2011 at the end of the country’s Civil War, has five scars on his back consistent with being branded and two on his right arm.

The Home Office rejected his account of torture and wanted to send him back to Sri Lanka.

KV was supported by three organisations with expertise in assessing evidence of torture – Freedom from Torture, the Helen Bamber Foundation, and Medical Justice.

He welcomed the ruling and said he hoped other torture survivors would not have to go through what he had experienced. 

He claimed asylum eight years ago but his case has still not been determined.“I’m very happy about the ruling and hope that it will help many asylum seekers who have been tortured,” KV said. 

“But I feel as if I have lost my life. I was arrested and tortured 10 years ago and I have been through so much. I was studying accountancy in Sri Lanka, but have had to put everything on hold. After eight years in the UK, my case has still not been decided.“When I first arrived here, I made a small recovery because I thought I was at last going to be safe, but when the Home Office and courts didn’t believe my account of torture, it made my trauma worse.”

KV’s solicitor, Arun Gananathan of Birnberg Peirce, said: 

“The years have taken their toll on my client, making it extremely difficult for him. One can only imagine the difficulty this man faces, having fled his country in fear of persecution to find that the country where he sought protection believes he has gone to the lengths of arranging for scars to be inflicted upon himself to pursue his claim.”A Home Office spokeswoman said: “It would be inappropriate to comment while legal proceedings are ongoing.”