What assumptions about human behaviour underlie asylum judgments?

  • Herlihy J
  • Gleeson K
  • Turner S
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In order to claim recognition as a refugee, individuals must give a ‘plausible’ account of persecution. Decision makers must then decide on the truthfulness of the account, and whether the person fits the legal definition of a refugee. Decision makers often have little corroborating evidence, and must make an assessment of credibility, largely a subjective response, involving a reliance on assumptions about human behaviour, judgements, attitudes, and how a truthful account is presented. This article describes a study of the assumptions in judgments made by UK immigration judges. Assumptions were defined and a coding structure used to systematically extract a list of assumptions from a series of written determinations. These assumptions were then submitted to an inductive thematic analysis. The resulting themes are compared briefly to the psychological and psychiatric literature, raising the question of whether assumptions used in asylum decision making are in line with current empirical evidence about human behaviour. The article recommends cross-disciplinary research to build an evidence base in order to help inform the decision making process in this crucial area of law.

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  • Jane Herlihy

  • Kate Gleeson

  • Stuart Turner

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