Country of Origin Information – a critical assessment

Legal Updates

A new report from the Immigration Advisory Service (IAS), investigates the impact of the independent monitoring of the former on raising the standards and quality of UKBA COIS reports.

Sheona York, Principal Legal Officer, IAS, says: “This report demonstrates the continuing need for vigilance from those representing asylum-seekers to ensure that the country evidence on which UKBA decision-makers rely is accurate, unbiased and sourced. Too many clients lose their cases because the UKBA treats as gospel some remark by some unnamed source, or relies on information taken out of context. Now we should ensure that the same critical spotlight shines on the UKBA’s internal Operational Guidance Notes.”

The APCI Legacy: A Critical Assessment Immigration Advisory Service 03/03/2010

In July 2008 the Advisory Panel on Country Information (APCI) was disbanded and its functions subsumed under the Office of the Chief Inspector of the UKBA. In March 2009 the Chief Inspector established the Independent Advisory Group on Country Information (IAGCI) to assist him with monitoring the UKBA Country of Origin Information Service (COIS) reports.

Country of origin information (COI) is an essential component of refugee status determination. The credibility of asylum accounts and risk upon return of individual claimants are assessed against background evidence that details the conditions in the country of origin. Good quality COI is fundamental to ensure fairness in all aspects of the process, representation and decision making. UKBA COIS reports are extensively, often exclusively relied upon in refugee status determination by UKBA decision makers, immigration judges and even legal representatives.

The findings and recommendations of this report will inform future best practice in monitoring UKBA COIS products. It is hoped that this report will inform stakeholders within the refugee status determination process about the quality and limitations of UKBA COIS reports.

The report sets the political context in which the APCI was set up, through an in-depth critical assessment of its conception, structure, function, review methods and implementation. The report found that in all aspects, the Home Office had undue influence on the APCI that compromised its independence and the transparency of its work.

The report recognises that tangible improvements were made with UKBA COIS products through basic quality control methods. However, it also highlights that, controversially, the APCI became implicated in the review process in designating ‘NSA countries’ (countries deemed to be safe). It was also kept out of scrutinising Home Office policy documents called Operational Guidance Notes that contain country information.

The report argues that despite widespread praise for the APCI’s work in improving standards and quality of COIS reports, its lack of teeth to ensure its recommendations were implemented in full detracted from the impact of its work. The report makes detailed recommendations to different stakeholders in the recognition that there is a continuing need for an independent, transparent and robust monitoring process of UKBA COIS products to ensure a fair refugee determination process.

This project has been supported by the Nuffield Foundation.