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Unhappy barristers quit over refugee tribunal body 'secrecy'

Sam Smyth TWO members who quit the Refugee Appeals Tribunal (RAT) have been accused of libelling its chairman in their letters of resignation.

The row has been brewing for at least year and it came to a head when the numbers of asylum seekers had fallen dramatically.

Barristers Sunniva McDonagh and Doreen Shivnan, copied their resignation letters to the Minister for Justice. In their letters, the barristers criticised how its chairman John Ryan, who is also a barrister, runs the tribunal. However, sources in the Department of Justice said that while allegations had been made about Mr Ryan, they are as yet unproven.

It is believed Mr Ryan has reacted to the resignation letters by accusing the writers of defamation.

Last July, the High Court criticised the RAT for its lack of transparency and Mr Justice McMenamin said it was wrong to refuse asylum seekers' lawyers access to previous decisions of the appeals tribunal. The tribunal appealed the decision to the Supreme Court and a decision has yet to be handed down.

Criticising the tribunal in the 'Bar Review', Ms McDonagh, who has resigned in protest as a member of the RAT, said the publication of decisions would reveal inconsistencies and allow a consensus of best practices to emerge.

Allegations of inconsistency in decisions have been common currency among immigration lawyers dealing with the RAT in recent years.

The tribunal has refused to publish details that could be used to compare the decisions made by different members of the tribunal.

The two barristers who resigned are just two of 34 who sit on the tribunal.

However, the Refugee Legal Service compiled its own list of figures and its statistics showed that just one barrister had heard more than 400 cases and had turned down 95pc of the appeals he heard.

The unofficial figures show that only 25pc of appeals heard by the tribunal were upheld.

Anonymous sources have said that the outcome of appeals can depend more on who hears the case than the quality of the case.

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