Secretary of State for the Home Department v AA

[2004] UKIAT

Expert evidence in the field of immigration

Facts

This was a case where the home secretary appealed against a determination of an immigration adjudicator (Mr IJ French), sitting in Birmingham, in which he allowed on asylum and human rights grounds the appeal of the respondent (‘AA’), a citizen of Somalia, against the home secretary’s original decision to direct his removal from the UK after refusing an application for asylum made by him.

AA had arrived in the UK in May 2003 and applied for asylum the next day. The grounds of his application were that he was a member of the minority Bajuni clan from Koyama, an island adjacent to the southern coast of Somalia. As such, AA claimed that he would be at risk of persecution if he were to be returned there.

Issues

The decision of the immigration adjudicator

It was common ground that AA was of Somalian nationality. However, the home secretary disputed that he was a member of the Bajuni clan. The key issue for the immigration adjudicator was whether AA was truly a member of the Bajuni clan. The immigration adjudicator concluded that he was and therefore allowed the appeal on both asylum and human rights grounds.

The appeal to the Immigration

Appeals Tribunal

The adjudicator’s decision was appealed to the Immigration Appeals Tribunal (IAT) by the home secretary.

Counsel for the home secretary submitted that in accepting AA’s assertion that he was a member of the Bajuni clan, the immigration adjudicator had attached undue weight to the statement of Brian Allen, who had been put forward as an expert on Somali matters, and his evidence was taken as such by the immigration adjudicator. Counsel for the home secretary submitted that Mr Allen was not qualified to give such evidence and that the immigration adjudicator was wrong to rely upon it in reaching his decision.

Counsel for AA referred to the Home Office’s Operational Guidance Note relating to Somalia (Version 6) issued in May 2004, which stated at paragraph 5.4.1:

There are a number of Somalia experts who submit reports in support of applications (most commonly at the appeal stage). There is (sic) no specific criteria by which an individual may declare themselves (sic) to be a Somalia expert; while some experts clearly do have considerable knowledge regarding many aspects of the country, the expertise of others relates to specific issues.

Accordingly, AA’s counsel submitted that there were no precise criteria for determining whether or not a particular individual could properly be regarded as an expert. Mr Allen’s CV (which was submitted as fresh evidence at the appeal) disclosed that he had spent a total of 21 years in East Africa. In addition, according to counsel for AA, he had displayed a detailed knowledge in his statement and she contended it would be unfair to penalise AA because of his solicitors’ failure to put a copy of Mr Allen’s CV before the adjudicator.

Decision

The decision of the IAT

The IAT took the view that the immigration adjudicator was wrong to have relied on Mr Allen’s evidence (at least to the extent that it was put before him) and emphasised that immigration adjudicators should not accept without question the opinions expressed by an individual merely because he himself claims to be an expert on a particular subject.

The IAT stated in its decision that it is not sufficient for an individual simply to assert that he is an expert, or to express opinions unsupported by proper sources and reasons. Instead, an individual purporting to give an expert opinion must demonstrate that he is an expert in relation to those matters on which he is expressing his opinion, and that he has current and reliable knowledge as to those matters, for example, if he is expressing opinion regarding the conditions in a particular country.

In addition, the IAT stated that an expert witness must identify with sufficient particularity, to enable their weight to be assessed properly by an immigration adjudicator, the sources of his information, and must also give proper, intelligible and adequate reasons for arriving at his expressed conclusions.

The IAT further stated that immigration adjudicators should exercise particular care in assessing what weight may properly be attached to the views expressed by an individual whose opinions are adduced on a regular basis, whether before adjudicators or this tribunal, so as to ensure that he has not allowed his views to be influenced, even unconsciously, by the hope or prospect of receiving further instructions of a similar kind in the future.

Turning to the question of Mr Allen himself, the IAT held that there was nothing in his statement to show that he was qualified to express an expert opinion regarding the situation of the Bajuni people in Somalia, apart from a bare reference in the third paragraph of his statement to ‘Following my work researching and working with the Bajuni peoples’, and a further reference at paragraph 5 of his statement to ‘My research into the Bajuni’. He provided no further information in his statement as to the nature of that research.

In light of the above facts – and even having read his CV which was not before the immigration adjudicator – the IAT stated that it was far from persuaded that Mr Allen was properly qualified to express an expert opinion regarding the situation of the Bajuni people in Somalia although it accepted that he might potentially be so qualified on further information being provided by him or on his behalf. The matter was remitted for a fresh hearing before a different immigration adjudicator.

Comment

The decision of the IAT

The IAT took the view that the immigration adjudicator was wrong to have relied on Mr Allen’s evidence (at least to the extent that it was put before him) and emphasised that immigration adjudicators should not accept without question the opinions expressed by an individual merely because he himself claims to be an expert on a particular subject.

The IAT stated in its decision that it is not sufficient for an individual simply to assert that he is an expert, or to express opinions unsupported by proper sources and reasons. Instead, an individual purporting to give an expert opinion must demonstrate that he is an expert in relation to those matters on which he is expressing his opinion, and that he has current and reliable knowledge as to those matters, for example, if he is expressing opinion regarding the conditions in a particular country.

In addition, the IAT stated that an expert witness must identify with sufficient particularity, to enable their weight to be assessed properly by an immigration adjudicator, the sources of his information, and must also give proper, intelligible and adequate reasons for arriving at his expressed conclusions.

The IAT further stated that immigration adjudicators should exercise particular care in assessing what weight may properly be attached to the views expressed by an individual whose opinions are adduced on a regular basis, whether before adjudicators or this tribunal, so as to ensure that he has not allowed his views to be influenced, even unconsciously, by the hope or prospect of receiving further instructions of a similar kind in the future.

Turning to the question of Mr Allen himself, the IAT held that there was nothing in his statement to show that he was qualified to express an expert opinion regarding the situation of the Bajuni people in Somalia, apart from a bare reference in the third paragraph of his statement to ‘Following my work researching and working with the Bajuni peoples’, and a further reference at paragraph 5 of his statement to ‘My research into the Bajuni’. He provided no further information in his statement as to the nature of that research.

In light of the above facts – and even having read his CV which was not before the immigration adjudicator – the IAT stated that it was far from persuaded that Mr Allen was properly qualified to express an expert opinion regarding the situation of the Bajuni people in Somalia although it accepted that he might potentially be so qualified on further information being provided by him or on his behalf. The matter was remitted for a fresh hearing before a different immigration adjudicator.