Dear Mr Sturdy,
I am writing to express deep concern at the way the Home Office is handling the cases of people who have been horrifically abused and fled to us for safety.
The UK had a proud history of taking in victims of torture, but the current government has introduced at least two new huge problems.
The first is the new definition of torture proposed by the Home Office, which defines torture as only by state agencies. This thereby excludes those tortured by state surrogates (which are widely used by dictators to do their dirty work for them). It also excludes torture by non-state groups which may be supported by the state or not opposed by the state. Fortunately, the High Court has found this definition illegal and ordered the release of hundreds of victims of torture from UK prisons (see https://www.theguardian.com/law/2016/nov/21/government-ordered-to-review-policy-on-torture-survivors), but the definition clearly needs to be changed.
The second is the way in which evidence of torture is treated. New research by Freedom from Torture has shown that poor procedures and mistakes in the handling of medical evidence are letting some of the most vulnerable people down.
In the research, over three quarters of the torture survivors had their claims wrongly rejected by caseworkers who mishandled and rejected expert evidence. A judge overturned these decisions at appeal, but when so much is at stake it shouldn’t go that far. It demonstrates a culture of disbelieving claimants and looking for excuses to reject them rather than giving them a fair hearing.
Please write to Secretary of State Amber Rudd
1) Demand that she ensures that the definition of torture does not refer to who has done the torturing, but to the nature of torture.
2) Ask her to read the report and take action to improve asylum decision-making for torture survivors, including complying with their own policy and using the training they have developed but never rolled out. The report can be found here: https://www.freedomfromtorture.org/provingtorturereport