In what was termed as a landmark judgment, the UK Supreme Court has ruled that the lower courts were wrong to override the conclusions of a medical expert when considering forensic evidence of torture in a Sri Lankan asylum seeker’s claim.
An asylum seeker from Sri Lanka, known as ‘KV’, appealed a Home Office decision to refuse his asylum claim. Expert medical opinion presented to the tribunal, which assessed evidence of torture, concluded that the physical evidence of torture, mainly comprising scarring from having hot metal rods applied to his skin, was highly consistent with his account.
The asylum tribunal dismissed his asylum appeal, ruling that ‘self-infliction by proxy’ (i.e. the infliction of injuries by a third party in order to leave fabricated evidence of torture scarring) had not been conclusively ruled out. The Court of Appeal upheld this finding and went even further in saying the medical expert had “trespassed” into the territory of the Asylum Tribunal.
Three leading organisations with expertise in assessing evidence of torture: Freedom from Torture, the Helen Bamber Foundation, and Medical Justice, jointly intervened in the case at the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court today ruled that the conclusion of the Court of Appeal was in contravention of the Istanbul Protocol, the internationally recognised standards for documenting torture and ill-treatment endorsed by the United Nations. The Court of Appeal was wrong to conclude that medical experts should limit themselves to documenting the immediate cause of each individual scar without coming to any conclusion about the overall clinical picture and its consistency with the account of torture.
The Supreme Court also stated that evidence of ‘self-infliction by proxy’ on the part of asylum seekers is “almost non-existent”.
“This judgment by the highest court in Britain is a wake-up call for President Sirisena and others who continue to deny Sri Lanka’s responsibility for war crimes including torture. The Supreme Court has accepted that there was extensive torture by state forces in Sri Lanka in 2009 and noted that evidence of fabricated torture injuries by asylum seekers was “almost non-existent,” Sonya Sceats, Chief Executive of Freedom from Torture said.