Freedom from Torture found evidence of "recurring and systematic errors" in handling cases
Victims of torture are being refused asylum in the UK by caseworkers who ignore expert medical evidence, a charity has revealed.
Freedom from Torture said new research had demonstrated “recurring and systematic errors” in how Home Office staff dealt with people who had survived torture in their home country.
The charity found that in three of every four cases, clinical evidence was replaced by a caseworker’s own opinions about the likely causes of scars or other symptoms.
In 30% of instances, caseworkers were found to have wrongly questioned the clinical expert’s qualifications, while more than half did not properly understand international methodology on documenting evidence of torture.
Most of the bad practice revealed in our research clearly contravenes Home Office policy guidance for asylum caseworkers
One survivor interviewed for the report told her caseworker her injuries were so severe she thought she would die.
However, she was denied asylum after the caseworker claimed her story was “inconsistent” as she would have been unable to escape if she was so badly injured.
A judge later overturned the decision, finding that initial evidence of torture provided in the survivor’s clinical report was correct.
The report also revealed that in 84% of cases asylum staff dismissed medical evidence because they had already reached a “negative credibility finding”.
In one instance, this led to a caseworker saying 29 cigarette burns on a survivor were more likely to be chicken pox, vaccination scars or insect bites.
Freedom from Torture is now calling on home secretary Amber Rudd to ensure decision-making is improved for survivors of torture.
Members of the public are also being urged to write to their MP to raise awareness of the issue.
Susan Munroe, Freedom from Torture’s chief executive, said: “For many survivors of torture in the UK asylum system, proving what has been done to them is becoming near impossible, even when they present extensive expert medical evidence of torture.
“The medical evidence is produced by independent, specialist doctors and our research clearly shows this is being undermined, mistreated or even dismissed altogether by asylum caseworkers, often because they prefer to make their own non-qualified judgements on clinical matters.
“Most of the bad practice revealed in our research clearly contravenes Home Office policy guidance for asylum caseworkers on the correct treatment of medical evidence of torture. The Home Office has an excellent training programme to help caseworkers implement this policy correctly but has never rolled it out.
“The Home Office should take urgent action to improve decision-making in asylum cases involving torture claims, by rolling out to all asylum caseworkers its full day training module on assessing medical evidence in torture cases.”
The Home Office claimed its staff underwent “rigorous training” and were required to give “equal weighting” to all the evidence provided.