Houses of Parliament venue for the launch of “Preventing Torture” by Freedom from Torture. 21st November 2016
Together with around 40 – 50 other people who attended I had the opportunity to visit Parliament, more specifically Commons Dining Room . Over an Earl Grey Tea and avoiding the biscuits I listened to a number of speaker relating to the launch of this document which was suitably reported in yesterday’s Times and BBC News. I attended deputising for the Chair of the BMA Forensic Medicine Committee.
Links to report can be found at
Susan Monroe Chief Executive of Freedom from Torture (FfT) launched the report and opened the discussion. Freedom from Torture is the only UK wide charity dedicated to the treatment and rehabilitation of torture survivors . FfT protects against the return of individuals to the country where the torture took place. Freedom from torture is committed to advancing the rights of torture survivors and holding perpetrators to account . Through the production of medical legal reports (MLR) it is the only organisation that uses torture evidence to bring states to account. It has five centres in the UK and has 1000 survivors at any one time. These originate from 66 countries. The top five states from were they originated are 1 Sri lanka 2. Iran 3. Pakistan 4. Afghanistan 5 Congo
Unfortunately 2/3rd are turned away only 1/3rd accepted. Currently the charity has annual cost of £8 million. By 2025 it is estimated £20 million needed. Speaking as a former nurse Susan was disturbed by the report which analysed in detail 50 survivors of torture. Their experiences were examined and the medical evidence reviewed. 74% cases the Home Office case worker dismissed evidence and gave their own views. Medical Legal Reports by the Doctor was working to standard as independent experts with international standards. The reports finding include 76% of appeals had the decision overturned whilst this is normally only around 30%. The Home Office should immediately improve decision making in asylum cases involving the medical evidence of torture. The training package for Case workers has never been rolled out and should begin.
The full recommendations are set out in the full report. There then followed a number of short speeches in support of the launch and the report
Sir Edward Henry Garnier, QC, MP Conservative Party politician Member of Parliament (MP) for Harborough in Leicestershire
Sir Edward started by noting that this was an all party occasion devoid from party politics. He congratulated the members of Freedom from Torture for the report and said they must be exhausted from the work. He said the HM government could ensure the Home Office takes note of the report. Indeed any government should act upon it and support the recommendations. Sir Edward apologised for Dominic Grieve not being present but he was being awarded the Legion d’Honneur this evening
Sir Keir Starmer, KCB QC Labour Member of Parliament for Holborn and St Pancras
Sir Keith said he strongly supported Freedom from Torture. He had visited their offices this year. Whilst fully engaging with their policies and issues it was spending time with the survivors of torture, listening to their journeys and difficulties. It is well recognised that proving torture is difficult. Torture is usually done in a way by the torturer to make it difficult to prove. There are none of the normal forensic tools at your disposal. The work of FtT is so important, he said. The work that Doctors do is powerful evidence. Going forward from this report constructively there needs to be a constructive approach with the engagement program. There is a need not only to stick to the policies but apply them. Proper weight must be given to the report so the right results are achieved.Positive words must lead to positive action and sustained results
Kolbassia Haoussou is co-founder of Survivor Speaks Out (SSO)
SSO is a torture survivors network that speaks out against torture and also informs. SSO is committed to advancing the rights of torture survivors and holding perpetrators to account through: Public Outreach; Improving the Asylum Environment; Campaigning; and Influencing Decision Makers. Most survivors, which he is one, have been on a journey unlike other journey normally encountered. He described it as from the mouth of death to life. Each survivor has different experiences. Because no physical scars are left torture may be difficult to prove. The medical evidence need to prove the testimony. For the survivors “what we say is what it is” he said. The risk is there that if you cannot prove to the Home Office. Kolbassia was concerned that the report shows the Home Office does not trust medical expert opinion. The government need, he said, to support the experts.
Details of SSO
You Tube Video
Kolbassia Haoussou interviews survivors of torture discuss proving torture as part of the asylum process in the UK. They share how they feel when evidence of torture (documented in an in-depth medico-legal report by an independent expert) is disbelieved by Home Office caseworkers, often leading to lengthy appeals
Tania Mathias Conservative politician MP for Twickenham
Tania is an ophthalmologist. According to her Wicki profile she was a refugee worker for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in the Gaza Strip and treated HIV, AIDS and tuberculosis patients in Africa.
Tania was adamant in support of the report but it also horrified by it’s content and there was cross party agreement that this should not go on. She suggested that an audit should be done in a years time to see what has happened.
A detailed article written by Tania dated 21/11/16 can be found here
which includes all the points she raises and more. I would also suggest leaving comments on her page.
Hon. Justice McCloskey – President of the Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Ayslum Chamber
The prohibition against torture, inhuman treatment and degrading treatment is one of the cornerstones of the ECHR . Article 3, appeared in 1950, when the Convention was adopted two years after the UN declaration though he noted that these were all predated by the 1689 English Bill of Rights. When taking the judicial oath, judges and magistrates swear ‘To do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of this realm without fear or favour, affection or ill-will’. This requires fearless independent adjudication.
Medical evidence is crucial in cases of torture. He pointed out the case of The Republic of Ireland – v – The United Kingdom which ECtHR gave judgment in January 1978. The medical evidence was “primitive” by modern standards but was independent expert opinion on physical rather than psychological torture. The law he says is organic. What 20-30 years ago was not seen as torture may now be regarded as that.
On 08 December 1988, the UK ratified the UN Convention against Torture and, in anticipation, Parliament enacted section 134 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 which defines torture as the behaviour of “a public official or person acting in an official capacity …. Who .. intentionally inflicts severe pain or suffering on another person in the performance or purported performance of his official duties”. Proof is a perennial challenge, he said. Giving the example of In R(AM) – v – SSHD the claimant claimed that she had been detained, raped and tortured in Angola, with resulting scars. The report’s author was a specialist registered nurse working as a clinical coordinator. The trial judge declined to accept the author’s opinion that the claimant had been tortured because it entailed accepting at face value everything said by the claimant. This was appealed . The Court of Appeal disagreed with this assessment –
“She was reporting as an experienced assessor in such matters and she was conducting a ’health assessment’. Her biography was included with her reports. She was not medcally qualified as yet, but she had a wealth of relevant experience. Apart from being the clinical coordinator .. she was a senior trainee in psychotherapy on a Masters Level Study Programme…”
In SA (Somalia) – v – SSHD The Court of Appeal was unreservedly critical of the doctor:
“… Such a report is inadequate for the task it is tendered to perform,namely to corroborate and/or lend weight to the account of the asylum seeker by a clear statement as to the consistency of old scars found with the history given. In this context the expert question of consistency should not be left to the adjudicator as a matter of inference or construction.”
The failure of the medical expert to deal with all the evidence will Weaken the claimants case. But he said the duties on medical experts can be solemn and odorous.
Dr Michael Wilkes MBBS DRCOG FFFLM
Forensic Physician and Registrar of the Faculty of Forensic and Legal Medicine. The FFLM sets standards for Forensic Physicians. There is no national qualification as tested by peers for Doctors examining claimants of torture.
Reports require a certainty of evidence of torture, describing injuries and giving an opinion of how they came about or giving a differential diagnosis and giving an expert conclusion. However there is a tendency to reject this opinion. Clinical opinions are being over ridden by those with no clinical experience.
The FFLM aims are to develop expertees and give post graduate education. The medical profession must look at the issues of competence. The faculty is working with the BMA ethics department to develop a curriculum and from this a qualification
Alistair Carmichael MP Liberal Democrat politician and the MP for the seat of Orkney and Shetland
As a lawyer Mr Carmichael has worked over the years with Amnesty FfT and Justice in Human Right. He recognised that this report needed to be brought to Parliament . Survivors have to be assured and handled fairly. The Home Office must abide by the policies they have. This affects us all as things are done by our government in our name and we need to uphold the standards in our own court. Once we accept lower standards of adjudication it is a steep and slippery slope.
Emily Thornberry MP Labour Party politician MP for Islington South and Finsbury
Emily discussed the trauma of survivors being put through our authorities having suffered the trauma of getting here, compounded by the trauma of not being believed. She noted the reports finding of 76% of appeals are successful and that it does not show Britain in a good light. This is a great country she said m but we should expect justice at home as much as we wish for justice abroad. She ended by hoping the Home Office would take this report seriously.