In June 2019, the Home Office updated its internal guidance on conducting asylum (substantive) interviews.
The guidance is a really useful document to read. Although sadly Home Office practice currently falls far short of what is supposed to happen on paper (see our news blog for more on this), it’s helpful for people to know what should and shouldn’t be happening in their interviews. When you know what is meant to be done, it is easier to challenge (either at the time, or subsequently) behaviour that goes against the guidance.
Audio recording of the interview
It is your legal right to have the interview audio-recorded.
The new guidance document suggests that Home Office policy is now to audio-record all interviews unless the person being interviewed requests that it isn’t recorded.
The guidance says:
It is Home Office policy to digitally record asylum interviews unless the exemptions policy applies.
Digital interviewing capability is being introduced across all asylum casework operational sites as part of the Home Office aim to become digital by default. This means that where the appropriate equipment has been installed, as a matter of policy, you must ensure that the substantive asylum interview is digitally recorded and that any audio copy made of the interview is provided to the claimant and or legal representative.
You can read about the “Digital Interviewing” project that has led to this development here.
This is contrast to the previous requirement that you had to request audio-recording in writing 24 hours or more in advance of the interview (or three days in advance if you were in detention), and even then the request wasn’t always complied with.
HOWEVER the Home Office’s website still has the following information about audio-recording:
You can ask for this interview to be tape recorded if you do not have legal representation. Ask your caseworker at least one day before.
It therefore seems sensible to continue to request the audio-recording, in writing, in advance, until it is clear that automatic audio-recording is standard practice.
The newly issued guidance says that, in a situation when the recording equipment isn’t working or isn’t available,
you should still proceed with the interview if the claimant agrees to the interview being conducted without a digital recording being made.
You should offer to delay the start of the interview to enable the claimant to speak to their legal representative.
If the claimant expresses a wish to have the interview audio or digitally recorded, you must either source an alternative means of recording or re-arrange the interview.
If the equipment fails and the legal representative is present, you must continue with the interview.
Interviews by video-conference
For some time now, some people have had their substantive interviews conducted via video conference.
The person seeking asylum sits in a room in one location, and the Home Office interviewer and interpreter sit in another location (perhaps even in a different location to the Home Office interviewer), and the interview takes place over a video link.
The updated Home Office guidance says that:
In some cases, conducting an interview via VC may not be appropriate, though this will depend on the circumstances of the individual case. When deciding whether to use VC you need to consider factors that may prevent a claimant disclosing particularly sensitive information in a VC interview.
This does not mean that VC will not be appropriate, but any reasons given by the claimant for not wanting an interview to be conducted by VC must be carefully considered. This may include, but is not limited to, cases involving sexual orientation or gender identity, victims of torture or other trauma where recording was part of the persecution, victims of sexual violence or other forms of gender-based persecution, victims of modern slavery or claimants with mental health conditions.
As Freedom from Torture have pointed out, “the onus is on the individual applicant to self-identify as a person who is unsuitable, and opt out.”
This requires the person to know they might be able to opt out, and also requires them to know they are going to interviewed by video-conferencing, which in our experience is not always the case.
Submitting evidence after the interview
It used to be the case that you were required to submit any further evidence, including a statement about what might have gone wrong or not been addressed in the interview, within five days of the interview taking place.
The Home Office position is now that:
There is no set period after an interview for this submission except for interviews of children, when you must always give a minimum of 5 working days after the interview for any further representations to be made.
It’s a little hard to tell if this is a positive development or not – it’s clearly beneficial if it allows you time to get important evidence to the Home Office, but it may not always be clear what the deadline is for submitting the evidence.
The Home guidance says that the Home Office interviewer “must record the agreed deadline on the interview record” but this may only happen if it is clear further evidence is needed (either the interviewer says they will need more evidence, or you say you have evidence to submit).
It’s probably still a good idea then to try and submit the evidence as quickly as possible if no specific deadline has been agreed. It is important to submit evidence, where available, before the Home Office make a decision on your application and this could be as quickly as a couple of weeks.
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