Clause 16 - Provision of evidence in support of protection or human rights claim

Part of Nationality and Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 26th October 2021.

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Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central 10:15 am, 26th October 2021

Taking account of your suggestion, Sir Roger, I wanted to make a few comments, although my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate made a substantial contribution. We need to pay close attention to this clause and those that follow it, because they cut across a basic principle of English and Scottish law: the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Underlying the clauses is an assumption of disbelief—everybody is playing the system. Of course, there are people who do, but we do not design our justice system on that assumption, nor should we design the asylum system on that basis.

Instead, we should look at the practical application, because as I said when I spoke to clause 10, we need to understand the journeys taken by those seeking refuge in our country as they flee persecution and conflict, and understand the trauma that led them to uproot themselves from their homes and the trauma that they experience on their journeys. That should give the Government serious pause for thought.

Clauses 16, 17 and 23 prejudice the system against survivors of violence, including sexual and gender-based violence, and reduce access to refugee protection. Clause 16 permits the Home Secretary to serve an evidence notice on a person who has made a protection of human rights claim, forcing them to provide evidence before a specified date. That needs to be looked at in terms of the consequences set out in clause 23 diminishing the weight of their evidence. We are returning to a theme here, because this is in conflict with the Home Office’s own asylum policy, which recognises that there are many good reasons why women who have survived sexual and other gender-based violence would be late in applying for asylum or in submitting evidence.

Let me quote the Home Office’s policy:

“There may be a number of reasons why a claimant, or dependant, may be reluctant to disclose information, for example feelings of guilt, shame, and concerns about family ‘honour’, or fear of family members or traffickers, or having been conditioned or threatened by them…Those who have been sexually assaulted and or who have been victims of trafficking may suffer trauma that can impact on memory and the ability to recall information. The symptoms of this include persistent fear, a loss of self-confidence and self-esteem, difficulty in concentration, an attitude of self-blame, shame, a pervasive loss of control and memory loss or distortion.”

That policy—the policy of the Home Office—states that

“disclosure of gender-based violence at a later stage in the asylum process should not automatically count against their credibility.”

Yet that is precisely what the Government are trying to do in these clauses, in conflict with their own policy.

The Women for Refugee Women charity, which does extraordinary work supporting those fleeing gender-based violence, says:

“because there are so many legitimate reasons for why a woman who has survived gender-based violence may submit evidence late, we do not think there is a way in which these evidence notices can be implemented fairly in respect to these highly vulnerable individuals.”

Let me return to the Home Office’s own assessment of the proposals, which found that the Bill’s

“policies could indirectly disadvantage protected groups”,

such as

“children, disabled people and people who are vulnerable for reasons linked to other protected characteristics—including but not limited to gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, sexual orientation and sex.”

That disadvantage, which the Home Office has identified, to vulnerable people and victims of huge trauma and violence will be hardwired into our law by these clauses, so I urge the Government to withdraw them.