Improper for Tribunal to selectively use country information

See eg ABAR15 v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection (No 2) [2016] FCA 721; 242 FCR 11 at [84] and [86]-[87] and [94].

  1. The statement in the 2011 UN Report to the effect that police and legal aid providers mostly investigated serious cases of domestic violence cases is consistent with the statement in the 2013 USDOS Report to the effect that authorities treated domestic violence cases as civil ones unless they involved injury to more than 11 percent of the victim’s body. These statements qualify the remaining portions of the reports concerning the existence of domestic violence laws in Vietnam and the commitment of the Vietnamese government to address the issue. The qualifications were of great importance in the application of the statutory criteria to the circumstances of the appellant’s case such that the Tribunal was not entitled to ignore them. The qualifications precluded any reasonable inference that might otherwise have been drawn from the reports to the effect that domestic violence laws in Vietnam were effectively implemented and practically protective.
  2. As I have mentioned, the written submissions of the appellant’s migration agent contained an extract from the 2013 USDOS Report which the Tribunal states it had considered. Given that the Tribunal had read the submission, and given its statutory obligation to include in its reasons for decision the evidence upon which it based its material findings of fact, I infer that the Tribunal considered the statement contained in the 2013 USDOS Report to be irrelevant to the material findings of fact it was bound to decide: see subs 430(1)(c) and (d) of the Act and the principles stated by the Full Court in Minister for Immigration and Border Protection v MZYTS (2013) 230 FCR 431; [2013] FCAFC 114 (at [49] – [51]). That inference is supported by the absence in the Tribunal’s reasons of any reference to the very similar paragraph from the 2012 USDOS Report, notwithstanding that the Tribunal extracted or paraphrased all other relevant parts of that report in so far as it concerned the treatment of women in Vietnam (except in relation to rape).
  3. In light of the observations I have made above, the Tribunal’s statement at [62] of its reasons that “the reports are varied on [the law’s] effectiveness” has no support in the country information materials the Tribunal considered: none of the information contained any statement or opinion to the effect that the laws were effectively implemented by the Vietnamese authorities.  Nor was there contained in the country information any statistics from which the Tribunal could independently and indirectly infer that domestic violence laws in Vietnam were effectively implemented.  The country information relied upon by the Tribunal states that the Vietnamese Government did not publish statistics recording the incidence of arrest, prosecution and conviction of perpetrators.
  4. Generally speaking, it may be open to the Minister (or, on review, the Tribunal) to cherry pick from among various sources of country information so as to form, by its own evaluation of the selected material, its own conclusions of fact.  It may also be accepted that, as a general rule, an administrative decision that involves the weighing and evaluation of countervailing considerations is not a decision amenable to interference by a Court on judicial review merely because the Court might evaluate the considerations differently or accord different considerations more or less weight than that accorded by the Tribunal.
  5. However, the material before the Tribunal did not contain conflicting statements as to the effectiveness of domestic violence laws in Vietnam so that the Tribunals’ decision could properly be viewed as one involving the preference of one body of evidence over another. The statements and opinions expressed in the reports concerning the effectiveness of the law were consistent, not countervailing. They were not contradicted by any other material to which the Tribunal referred.

  1. As I have mentioned, the Tribunal stated to the appellant, in the course of its hearing, that there was “no evidence” that the Vietnamese police do not act on reports of domestic violence. The conclusion ultimately reached by the Tribunal indicates that it reasoned from that premise to a conclusion that the Vietnamese authorities could and would act on reports of domestic violence (including threats of domestic violence) that might be made by the appellant. It may well have been open to the Tribunal to refer to the contradictory material and give a reasoned explanation for rejecting it, but that is not what it has done. It instead proceeded upon the false premise that there was no evidence contradicting its conclusion at all.

Tribunal still required to consider cases not expressly articulated

See eg NABE v Minister for Immigration & Multicultural & Indigenous Affairs (No 2) [2004] FCAFC 263:

The Tribunal is required to deal with the case raised by the material or evidence before it – Chen v Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (2000) 106 FCR 157 at 180 [114] (Merkel J). There is authority for the proposition that the Tribunal is not to limit its determination to the ‘case’ articulated by an applicant if evidence and material which it accepts raise a case not articulated – Paramananthan v Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (1998) 94 FCR 28 at 63 (Merkel J); approved in Sellamuthu v Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (1999) 90 FCR 287 at 293 – 294 (Wilcox and Madgwick JJ). By way of example, if a claim of apprehended persecution is based upon membership of a particular social group the Tribunal may be required in its review function to consider a group definition open on the facts but not expressly advanced by the applicant – Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs v Sarrazola (No 2) (2001) 107 FCR 184 at 196 per Merkel J, Heerey and Sundberg JJ agreeing. It has been suggested that the unarticulated claim must be raised ‘squarely’ on the material available to the Tribunal before it has a statutory duty to consider it – SDAQ v Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (2003) 199 ALR 265 at 273 [19] per Cooper J. The use of the adverb ‘squarely’ does not convey any precise standard but it indicates that a claim not expressly advanced will attract the review obligation of the Tribunal when it is apparent on the face of the material before the Tribunal. (see [58])

Findings of fact apparently based on credibility cannot shield what is otherwise incontrovertible

A tribunal of fact cannot insulate its fact-finding by asserting that it is all based on credibility. This obvious proposition was explained in Fox v Percy (2003) 214 CLR 118:

[28] Over more than a century, this Court, and courts like it, have given instruction on how to resolve the dichotomy between the foregoing appellate obligations and appellate restraint. From time to time, by reference to considerations particular to each case, different emphasis appears in such reasons. However, the mere fact that a trial judge necessarily reached a conclusion favouring the witnesses of one party over those of another does not, and cannot, prevent the performance by a court of appeal of the functions imposed on it by statute. In particular cases incontrovertible facts or uncontested testimony will demonstrate that the trial judge’s conclusions are erroneous, even when they appear to be, or are stated to be, based on credibility findings.

[29] That this is so is demonstrated in several recent decisions of this Court. In some, quite rare, cases, although the facts fall short of being “incontrovertible”, an appellate conclusion may be reached that the decision at trial is “glaringly improbable” or “contrary to compelling inferences” in the case. In such circumstances, the appellate court is not relieved of its statutory functions by the fact that the trial judge has, expressly or implicitly, reached a conclusion influenced by an opinion concerning the credibility of witnesses. In such a case, making all due allowances for the advantages available to the trial judge, the appellate court must “not shrink from giving effect to” its own conclusion. Finality in litigation is highly desirable. Litigation beyond a trial is costly and usually upsetting. But in every appeal by way of rehearing, a judgment of the appellate court is required both on the facts and the law. It is not forbidden (nor in the face of the statutory requirement could it be) by ritual incantation about witness credibility, nor by judicial reference to the desirability of finality in litigation or reminders of the general advantages of the trial over the appellate process.

(footnotes omitted)

Don’t analyse ‘real chance’ by numbers

See Mansfield J in DZADQ v Minister for Immigration (2014) 143 ALD 659 at [65]:

The Tribunal was satisfied that the appellant was as a Shia Muslim at risk of serious harm by reason of his religion. The Tribunal however classified that risk as being too remote. In my view, the essential link in the chain of reasoning connecting the two findings was missing. Besides quoting that there are over 40 million Shia Muslims in Pakistan, the Tribunal, in its published reasons, did not consider the evidence that underpinned its ultimate finding that the risk was remote. In my view, its task was not done by the numerical analysis. It should have considered the appellants’ particular circumstances. If it be the case that there is nothing to distinguish the appellant from other Shia Muslims in Pakistan, provided the country information (common to both the delegate and the Tribunal) stands, it is hard to see how the conclusion of the Tribunal is sustainable. If there were some small or local sectarian violence, the picture the country information indicated would not be so dramatic or compelling. To the contrary, the picture appears to be that it is coordinated, pervasive and effective, and the Taliban are presented as a cogent and broadly spread instrument of its application. It should not be adequate, in the face of such data, to say in effect that although a significant number of Shia Muslims will be severely harmed or killed by that pervasive targeted violence because you as a target group are numerous, the chances of any particular one of you being as harmed or killed is not a real one or is fanciful.


Apprehended bias and bowls of phở

The test and authorities discussing factual permutations are discussed by Kenny J in VFAB v Minister for Immigration & Multicultural & Indigenous Affairs [2003] FCA 872.

It is whether a fair-minded lay observer might reasonably apprehend that the Tribunal member might not have brought an impartial mind to the resolution of the question to be decided.

A particularly outrageous example is found in S233 of 2002 [2004] FMCA 39. See for example:

[63] It is also noteworthy that on that same page, at about point nine, that the turn that emerges from the text of the Tribunal members’ questioning of the applicant is, to say the least unfortunate, bearing on the sarcastic and I quote:

How can they possibly distribute these dissident leaflets in parks and cafes? How can that possibly happen? Do they walk around to people having picnics and say ‘will you please read this’? Do they interrupt someone in the middle of bowl of pho and say ‘Oh excuse me, just while you are having your pho would you please read this pamphlet’.

Minister must exercise ‘unfettered’ powers consistent with Act’s objectives and accountability

See obiter remarks entitled ‘Disturbing undercurrents’ by Flick J in Minister for Immigration and Citizenship v SZQRB [2013] FCAFC 33.

See also [363]-[388] for a discussion about how personal non-compellable powers which may be exercised in the ‘public interest’ must still take into account relevant factors.  It is an error to make a decision ‘irrespective of’ relevant factors: [372]

Why removal without assessing non-refoulement obligations is (was) unlawful

This is because statutes must be interpreted consistently with international law insofar as the text permits.  See explanation in Plaintiff M70/2011 v Minister for Immigration & Citizenship [2011] HCA 32; (2011) 244 CLR 144; (2011) 85 ALJR 891; (2011) 280 ALR 18; (2011) 122 ALD 237 at [54] per French CJ, [94]-[98] per Gummow, Hayne, Crennan and Bell JJ and [239] per Kiefel J, and Minister for Immigration & Citizenship v SZQRB [2013] FCAFC 33; (2013) 210 FCR 505; (2013) 296 ALR 525; (2013) 132 ALD 269 at [229]-[231] per Lander and Gordon JJ and [313] per Besanko and Jagot JJ.

The limitation on the removal power in section 198, identified in Plaintiff M70, was sought to be overturned by the introduction of section 197C.  See discussion in WZAWB v Minister for Immigration [2016] FCCA 1345; 309 FLR 398 at [171]-[192].  The effect of section 197C does not otherwise appear to have been considered.


Applicant does not usually have to put on evidence about counterfactual if procedural fairness denied

If a denial of procedural fairness has deprived the applicant of a fair hearing, there is no need for the applicant to prove anything more.  This is contrasted with the situation where a denial of procedural fairness did not otherwise result in a fair hearing (probably a rare situation).

See discussion in Minister for Immigration and Border Protection v WZARH [2015] HCA 40; 256 CLR 326: per Gaegler and Gordon JJ at [55]-[60]:

The concern of procedural fairness, which here operates as a condition of the exercise of a statutory power, is with procedures rather than with outcomes. It follows that a failure on the part of an assessor or reviewer to give the opportunity to be heard which a reasonable assessor or reviewer ought fairly to give in the totality of the circumstances constitutes, without more, a denial of procedural fairness in breach of the implied condition which governs the exercise of the Minister’s statutory powers of consideration.

Such a breach of the implied condition which governs the exercise of the Minister’s statutory powers of consideration is material, so as to justify the grant of declaratory relief by a court of competent jurisdiction, if it operates to deprive the offshore entry person of “the possibility of a successful outcome”[61].

That approach to the determination of the existence and consequence of a breach of an implied condition of procedural fairness governing the exercise of a statutory power is wholly consistent with the often-repeated observation of Gleeson CJ in Re Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs; Ex parte Lam[62] that the concern of procedural fairness is to “avoid practical injustice”, and with his Honour’s conclusion in that case that there was no denial of procedural fairness where “[n]o practical injustice ha[d] been shown”[63]. The absence of practical injustice in Lam lay in the fact that “[t]he applicant lost no opportunity to advance his case”[64]; it was not “shown that he lost an opportunity to put any information or argument to the decision-maker, or otherwise suffered any detriment”[65].
Contrary to the submission of the Minister in this appeal, and as has repeatedly been recognised in the Full Court of the Federal Court[66], Lam is not authority for the proposition that it is incumbent on a person who seeks to establish denial of procedural fairness always to demonstrate what would have occurred if procedural fairness had been observed. What must be shown by a person seeking to establish a denial of procedural fairness will depend upon the precise defect alleged to have occurred in the decision-making process.

There are cases in which conduct on the part of an administrator in the course of a hearing can be demonstrated to have misled a person into refraining from taking up an opportunity to be heard that was available to that person in accordance with an applicable procedure which was otherwise fair[67]. To demonstrate that the person would have taken some step if that conduct had not occurred is, in such a case, part of establishing that the person has in fact been denied a reasonable opportunity to be heard.

Where, however, the procedure adopted by an administrator can be shown itself to have failed to afford a fair opportunity to be heard, a denial of procedural fairness is established by nothing more than that failure, and the granting of curial relief is justified unless it can be shown that the failure did not deprive the person of the possibility of a successful outcome. The practical injustice in such a case lies in the denial of an opportunity which in fairness ought to have been given[68].

(emphasis added)