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The case of AA: a never-ending story?
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This is the story of what might be the longest-running appeal within the UK’s immigration appeal system.
The story starts in rather ordinary fashion. AA arrived in the UK on the back of a lorry in early January 2009 when he was a child. He was a young Sunni Kurd from Kirkuk fleeing the general violence in the region. His father had been killed and the rest of the family fled in different directions. On arrival in the UK, he immediately claimed asylum. The Home Office with surprising efficiency decided his case in June 2009. It is at this stage that AA’s long and tortuous appeal journey started.
His appeal initially progressed with speed, with his first appeal hearing Bradford on 2 September 2009; in the days before Contested Areas and Formerly Contested Areas and even before Civil Status Identity Documentation (CSID’s) were an issue. Unfortunately, the appeal was dismissed.
The process for challenging an immigration judges’ decision was different back then. A senior immigration judge refused permission to appeal, but a High Court judge ordered what was called “reconsideration”. This meant that AA’s appeal came before the Upper Tribunal in February 2011. Once again, his appeal was dismissed.
At these early stages in his legal battle, AA was represented by the fantastic barrister, Melanie Plimmer. From 7 November 2022, incidentally, she will be the new President of the First-tier Tribunal. Undaunted and with the benefit of this fearless representation, AA’s case progressed to the Court of Appeal. And by an Order dated 25 October 2012 his case was remitted to the Upper Tribunal.
It was at this stage that AA’s case gained notoriety. His case was selected to be a Country Guidance case, eventually being reported in October 2015 as AA (Article 15(c)) Iraq CG  UKUT 544 (IAC). His appeal was remitted to the First-tier Tribunal, but not without a detour to the Court of Appeal for the Country Guidance to be amended (see AA (Iraq) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWCA Civ 944).
At this stage it looked like AA might actually succeed in his case. He was from Kirkuk, a Contested Area, and so it seemed only internal relocation would be an issue at his remitted appeal hearing. It looked like AA would eventually get positive resolution.
But his story was not ending that quickly. Before the First-tier Tribunal in May 2018 the judge decided not to apply the Country Guidance given in AA (Iraq) to AA; possibly the most bemusing decision in my lengthy legal career. So once again, AA’s appeal was dismissed.
This time the fight for an onward appeal was even more complex. Both the First-tier Tribunal and the Upper Tribunal refused permission to appeal. So, a Cart judicial review was required to ensure that AA’s fight for justice continued. The High Court eventually quashed the Upper Tribunal’s refusal of permission in November 2019.
It took another year for AA to have his next hearing in the Upper Tribunal. The judge decided that the First-tier Tribunal had indeed erred in law in dismissing the appeal and set aside the decision. It was decided that the appeal should be kept in the Upper Tribunal for the re-making of the decision.
And so, to the present. AA was listed to appear in the Upper Tribunal today, 1 November 2022. His case has travailed the whole range of issues relating to Iraqi protection claims over its 13-year history, but understandably the main issue now relates to documentation. AA will be left with that perennial dilemma for Iraqi asylum applicants — having to struggle to prove a negative — he will need to convince the judge of his lack of contact with his family. He fled Iraq as a teenager in 2008, so I am really not sure what “evidence” of a lack of contact with his family will suffice and it often seems common sense is lacking in these situations.
AA seems perhaps closer than ever to the conclusion of his case. It is astonishing that this young man’s appeal has lasted almost 14 years without resolution. Experience unfortunately tells me that I will continue to see appeal references on the list of courts and tribunals for some time to come in a number of cases.
UPDATE: Surprising and extremely exciting news from Manchester where Upper Tribunal Judge Pickup allowed AA’s appeal on Article 3 grounds at the conclusion of this weeks hearing. This was most unexpected. The Home Office Presenting Officer was unusually pragmatic and accepted that the Secretary of State could only succeed if AA was still in contact with his mother, if AA’s mother still had AA’s original civil status ID card, and if AA’s mother had the wherewithal to get the original civil status ID to AA in the UK or to meet him at Baghdad International Airport with it. As a reminder, all this is set within the context of AA fleeing Iraq 14 years ago as a child. Since that time Iraq has been in an almost constant state of conflict with hundreds of thousands killed and millions displaced. The Judge found AA’s evidence plausible and credible and found that AA would not be able to access a civil status ID card. He would therefore be at real risk of inhuman and degrading treatment if he were to return. Understandably AA was overjoyed. It is hoped that his BRP is issued swiftly so that he can now try to rebuild his life in the UK, having lived his late teens and twenties in a grim state of limbo.
This result would not have been possible without the dedication and hard work of the lawyers involved. AA was lucky to have been represented by two of the best barristers I have ever worked with – for the first four years of his case Melanie Plimmer and for the last eight years Danny Bazini. And all of this has been funded by Legal Aid, a vital limb of the welfare state. Without legal aid, supported by tireless campaigns from organisations such as ILPA and LAPG, AA and many others like him would not achieve the justice they deserve. Access to justice and the availability of Legal Aid are core aspects of a fair and just society. It is essential that the next generation of legal aid lawyers are encouraged and supported to ensure that future asylum claimants are able to access the best possible legal advice. I would therefore urge other experienced Legal Aid practitioners to join the Young Legal Aid Lawyers Mentoring Scheme.