Judge’s French skills win Ivorian asylum appeal

The Court of Session in Edinburgh. Picture: TSPL
The Court of Session in Edinburgh. Picture: TSPL
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A SCOTTISH judge’s command of French has helped an African woman to win another chance at claiming asylum.

Lord Matthews translated a newspaper article and found that immigration officials acting for the home secretary, Theresa May, had been working to an incorrect translation.

He ordered that Mrs May reconsider the case of a 34-year-old woman, referred to as AD, who said she feared being forced to undergo female circumcision and to marry an older man with three wives if she were returned to the Ivory Coast.

Officials had already rejected the woman’s asylum claim when she submitted an article from the country’s national newspaper, Le Mandat, which had highlighted her plight.

The article was deemed not to amount to a fresh claim and the woman faced removal from the UK, but she challenged the decision at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

Lord Matthews said one of Mrs May’s main criticisms of the newspaper article was that, according to a translation provided by AD’s lawyers, it initially reported AD’s mother as being worried by her disappearance and knocking on doors looking for her, but later stated that AD had fled the Ivory Coast with the help of her mother in 2007.

The home secretary is required to apply “anxious scrutiny” in deciding whether representations constitute a fresh claim, and Lord Matthews said: “It seems to me that in the exercise of anxious scrutiny, (the home secretary) would have discovered that the article does not in fact say that AD left the country.”

Neither lawyers for AD nor Mrs May had raised the point with him, the judge, whose father was a French teacher, added.

“But having considered the article in its original form, in the exercise of anxious scrutiny myself, I am perfectly satisfied that it has been mistranslated. What it said in the original is that, ‘Elle avait ete exfiltree grace au soutien de sa mere.’ That means that she was spirited away or extracted. It is used, for example, in the context of extracting an agent from behind enemy lines. It does not mean that the person left the country, or at least not necessarily,” said Lord Matthews.

“I find that (the home secretary) has failed to exercise anxious scrutiny in considering the apparent credibility of the article. I shall reduce the decision complained of, and remit the case to (the home secretary) for further consideration.”