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The Truth


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CredibilityI’ve come across some interesting articles on ‘credibility’ through the Forced Migration Current Awareness Blog. This is an excellent blog which records various publications on all sorts of interesting subjects and effectively catalogues them, making future access possible. Links often appear on Free Movement in the bottom left hand feed box.

I hate the word ‘credibility’. I can’t see what is wrong with ‘truthfulness’, which is what we are really talking about. The vagueness and lack of focus of the word ‘credibility’ encourages appalling reasoning in Home Office reasons for refusal letters and HOPO submissions. I came across a classic example recently. There was very compelling medical evidence to show that tattoos had been burned off my client in several places. The Home Office argued that tattoos were unusual in the client’s culture, therefore his credibility was adversely affected. No more explanation was given.

But how was his ‘credibility’ affected? He obviously had indeed had tattoos and they had been burned off him. If we talked about truthfulness instead,  I would have hoped that the Home Office official would have recognised the incompleteness of the argument, or perhaps even its absurdity.

Anyway, this article by Dr Sameer P. Sarkar in the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law is a good introduction to those interested in notions of truth, perception, memory, recall and trauma. The article is hardly revelatory or groundbreaking as it should be universally understood that humans do not videotape events around them and cannot therefore replay them perfectly, in the right order, including everything that happened. However, this is sadly not universally understood in the world of immigration and asylum law. At least, not by immigration judges.

There is another very interesting article by Crystal Estrada in the Thomas Jefferson Law Review on the treatment of unaccompanied child asylum seeker testimony in the United States, arguing for a rebuttable presumption in favour of believing unaccompanied children. I think this is a hot topic here in the UK. I’ve seen enough appalling examples of bad practice regarding children that I’m sure this issue will reach the higher courts sometime soon.

Interested in refugee law? You might like Colin's book, imaginatively called "Refugee Law" and published by Bristol University Press.

Communicating important legal concepts in an approachable way, this is an essential guide for students, lawyers and non-specialists alike.

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The Free Movement blog was founded in 2007 by Colin Yeo, a barrister at Garden Court Chambers specialising in immigration law. The blog provides updates and commentary on immigration and asylum law by a variety of authors.


9 Responses

  1. “The truth, the whole truth, and nothing like the truth.”

    I would like to see ECOs and HOPOs change the use of “Credibility” for something better than a tool for refusing perfectly good applications, but need to refuse it because of the numbers of other successful applications.
    It undermines consistancy, brings the system into disrepute, and makes a mockery of justice.
    You know when you’ve been targeted – its because they claim they do not believe you on a single point, and it happens to be the point they have refused you on. If they “believed” you on that point then they shouldn’t have refused you

  2. I have to admit that I personally dislike using the word credibility, it is so wishy washy (I know someone who speaks for a living should be better with words but its late).

    Any of you who have been before that nice old Yorkshire farmer Mr Crawford will have possibly heard him say “Lad/Lass don’t talk to me about credibility, if you think they are lying then say so.”

    The problem is if you use words like lie the majority of Immigration Judges will critisise you for using such strong language (god forbid we actually say what we mean) as you might upset the person who is sitting in front of you (though of course I try my best to be sensitive to genuinely vulnerable appellants).

    1. (just pretend I didn’t post these separately)

      The problem with recalling situations and giving evidence on them are well documented which does make it dissapointing when people are refused soley on minor inconsistencies in evidence.

      Unfortunately this is something that is somewhat reinforced by the appellants representatives who will make a big issue over the fact that their clients evidence has been consistent so they must be believed (of course no one has ever heard of a consistent liar), but much more rarely see the same effort being put into convincing an IJ that someone can be inconsistent but still be telling the truth, but then again some judges wouldn’t listen even if you tried.

      As to unnacompanied minors, why is it that social services near to the traditional ports of entry seem to have a much harder time accepting that someone is a minor than in other regions (I’ll let you answer that one yourself).
      I have to admit that I have had serious concerns on cases where the person sat in front of me is clearly 14-18 but I have a report saying they are an adult.
      As to how we are supposed to deal with minors in court, this is something no-one trains HOPO’s on, or they didn’t back in the days when I was trained, so we have to rely on our own common sense or the people around us in court.

      However I do know how to talk to a 14yr old girl who has been raped by the rebel forces in her home country (somethiung we accepted) and it shouldn’t be for me to have to tell the Adjudicator (as was) and representative that the way they are questioning her is wholly innapropriate and tell them that only I’m going to ask her any more questions and anything they want to ask her should go through me.

      Thank god this has only happened once to me a long time ago, but it is something that has stuck in my mind ever since, particularily as I had to argue that despite the fact we accepted her story she could be returned home to a government controlled area where she would be safe from her persecutors.

      Anyway it should be much better now as we are all having to do a “keeping children safe” training course.

  3. I remember I said to one Judge ‘the applicant’s account is not credible’, to which the Judge said ‘now then, if he lying son, just say so’.

    The next week I said ‘the applicant’s account is a complete pack of lies, half truths and inventions’ to which that Judge said ‘are you saying he’s not credible?’

    1. Deporter

      I sympathise.
      “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t”

      Things haven’t changed with judges for 2000 years. They criticised John the Baptist for his Locust easting diet, but call Jesus a Glutton for eating normally.

      However I think in one of the occasions the judge may be seeing that your questioning of credibility is just that, and not based on any real evidence that the person is lying/not_credible. Some HOPOs seem to think they have a right to question credibility on every case, even where there is evident to the contrary.
      I think it would be better in that case to defend the HO refusal by saying that the applicant didn’t meet the requirements. It would then add weight to the HOPO when there is a genuine concern about another claimant’s credibility.
      With credible applicants, it is likely that there will be minor anomolies or inconsistencies in the evidence. There has been a lot of discussion about this recently so I don’t need to add to it here.

      Anyway, as I have said before, great handle (name).

  4. DP

    Some people have so lost touch with reality that Alien Abduction actually seems a plausible explanation.
    However, I prefer crypto-zoology.

  5. I have to swim against the tide here and say that the word credible is useful. Not because it is a euphemism but because it means some different to truthfulness. Credibility is about whether an account is convincing or believable. Truthfulness is about whether someone is lying or not.

    Two important points about the assessment of evidence flow from this:

    1. An account can be credible and false, or it can be incredible and true.
    2. A person can be telling a lie about [x] in order to bolster their account, but they may be telling the truth about [y].

    These factors are often overlooked by judges and decision-makers who can be too quick to see a “lack of credibility” as the easy way to a quick decision dismissing a claim.

    1. You are quite right, there is a distinct meaning to the word ‘credible’ in that context – but it is not the context used by HOPOs and immigration judges. In submissions and determinations, ‘credibility’ is a personal quality attached to the individual in question, not their account. Alternatively, when an account is described as ‘not credible’ (surely the correct grammar and meaning should be ‘incredible’ and they should say so?) what is really meant is that it is not believed. It is rare that I hear an account that is so beyond the bounds of possibility that it is truly ‘not credible’/incredible. In the context you describe, I’d much prefer the word ‘plausible’. I find adverse plausibility findings by IJs rather hard to understand in relation to the ordinary meaning of the word sometimes, but at least the meaning is clearer than for nebulous ‘credibility’ as it has come to be misused.