‘Fairness’ is subjective, and often in the eye of the beholder. But what about fairness during trials?
We would all like to think that wherever our case is heard in an independent court, the same procedures and standards of fairness will be applied. We would like to believe that the world outside of the court – such as politics, public discourses and the media – have no influence on court proceedings. But judges and legal practitioners are members of society, and research suggests that legal proceedings are influenced by what is happening outside of courts, and both court proceedings and the outcomes of legal cases may differ between courts. Perhaps these differences have little bearing on the case, and regardless of external influences, we experience a fair legal process.
However, for asylum seekers in Europe, court proceedings are highly problematic. Asylum seekers arriving in a country of sanctuary may not have a choice on where their case is heard and who represents them (and to what extent), and may have little knowledge of court proceedings. If factors related to the fair running of an asylum appeal differ between centres or EU countries this could be problematic, and even dangerous for asylum seekers.
In 2013 the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) was launched to standardise the procedures of asylum determination in Europe. In line with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (Article 47), CEAS aims to guarantee the right to a fair asylum hearing and trial, which should be consistent throughout the EU. But as yet no sustained multi-methodological assessment of the claims of consistency inherent to the CEAS has been carried out. An inter-disciplinary team at the University of Exeter have launched ASYFAIR – a project that offers the opportunity to assess progress towards harmonisation of asylum determination processes in Europe, and provides a new conceptual framework with which to approach the dilemmas and risks of inconsistency in bureaucratic and legal practices concerning asylum adjudication.
ASYFAIR aims to demonstrate that asylum determination processes are fraught with political controversy and uncertainty, and promises to debunk the myths surrounding the possibility of fair and consistent border controls and legal processes in Europe and elsewhere. The obtained data is likely to be of interest to academic communities like geographers, legal and border scholars, and social scientists, as well as to policy makers and activists working in border control and asylum adjudication settings, as it provides an innovative lens through which to critique and inform policy and legislation during a crucial period of consolidation of the asylum system and border controls in Europe.
This project is hosted by University of Exeter and has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. StG-2015_677917.