Anita Vasisht, a partner in our immigration team discusses her case of AZ (Syria) v Secretary of State for the Home Department[2017] EWCA Civ 35 which concerns the standard of disclosure required under EU law when a refugee is refused a travel document for national security reasons.

As featured in the Times law reports on 16th March 2017, our case of R (AZ (Syria)) v Secretary of State for the Home Department concerns a Syrian who was granted refugee status in the UK but refused a Geneva Convention travel document on the grounds of national security. In his application, AZ explained that he needed a travel document to visit and help his father who was seriously ill in Jordan where he had fled along with over a million other refugees from Syria. In a letter dated January 2014, Home Office lawyers gave the refusal reason as follows: “Our client assesses that [AZ] is an Islamic extremist, and that granting him a travel document would increase the risk to UK national security." In March 2015, the Home Office elaborated as follows: “You have been refused a travel document on the basis that it is assessed that granting a travel document would increase the risk to UK national security. You are assessed to hold Islamic extremist views and have expressed a desire to travel to Syria to engage in fighting.In light of this information you may wish to consider making representations to the Home Office so that your application can be reconsidered”. AZ denies the Home Office’s allegations.By 2014, AZ’s father had travelled from Jordan to Sweden where he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.In March 2015, AZ requested a limited travel document to visit his dying father in Sweden. Evidence was submitted of his father’s condition and the urgency of the situation but the Home Office delayed in considering the request and AZ’s father died before AZ received the travel document. He had been trying to visit his father since AZ was granted refugee status in August 2012. The Home Office agreed that he could travel to Sweden but delays meant that AZ missed out on spending time with his father, travelling out instead to mourn his loss and attend his father’s funeral.With our help, AZ has brought judicial review proceedings in the Administrative Court challenging the Home Secretary’s decision to refuse AZ a general travel document. The substantive proceedings are stayed pending the outcome of arguments relating to the level of disclosure of reasons for refusing his travel document.We say that under EU law - article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union – AZ is entitled to know the essence of the grounds on which the Home Secretary has relied to refuse the travel document – i.e we say he is entitled to know more information regarding the case against him. We also say that the right to a travel document is an important right for a refugee.

The Administrative Court and now the Court of Appeal hold the view that AZ is not entitled to know the essence – rather he is only entitled to an outline of the grounds. AZ’s case in the Administrative Court involves a closed material procedure. This means that neither AZ nor we, as his “open” lawyers, are allowed to see the material relied on by the Home Office to refuse the travel document. The Court of Appeal has decided that the closed material procedure which involves special advocates acting on behalf of AZ satisfies the procedural requirements of article 47 of the Charter.The Court of Appeal has also decided that a refugee’s right to a Geneva Convention travel document does not have the same quality as one of the EU’s foundational rights such as freedom of movement. We say that as it concerns EU law, the level of importance of a refugee’s right to a travel document, should be determined by the European Court of Justice but both the Administrative Court and the Court of Appeal have rejected our request for a reference to Luxembourg. We are now preparing an application to the Supreme Court.

At Wilsons we have been advising on immigration and asylum for more than twenty five years. If you or someone you know is affected by issues similar to those raised in this news item and would like to discuss your concerns in a confidential environment with one of our qualified solicitors or partners, please contact Dionne on 020 8885 7979 and she can arrange an appointment. Alternatively email us at and we will be in touch.

If you have a family law case you need assistance with, please contact Mavis on 020 8885 7986 to arrange for an appointment with a solicitor in the family team.

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