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Country Policy and Information Notes (CPINs) in Asylum and Human Rights Appeals

When asylum and human rights cases go to appeal, the judge will often need to consider circumstances in a foreign country, usually (though not necessarily) the appellant’s country of origin. When this is the case, it will generally assist the court to have detailed factual evidence on that country. Appellants can of course provide evidence of their own: when we are instructed to assist with appeals, for example, we will often instruct experts to prepare reports for use in court, or where appropriate we may also assist our clients in sourcing other objective materials (from academic publications, to journalistic sources, to reports by NGOs or charities).

In theory the Home Office may also rely on objective materials from third parties, but most often it will rely on its own reports, known as Country Policy and Information Notes (‘CPINs’). In this post, we will look at CPINs in more detail: what they contain, how they are produced, how they are relied upon, and how they are viewed by the courts and tribunals.

What topics do CPINs cover?

CPINs are a series of documents produced by UKVI’s Country Policy Information Team. They are published online and organised by country. They do not exist for every country in the world – at the time of writing, there are CPINs relating to 45 countries, which broadly reflect the top countries in terms of number of UK asylum claims. There may be multiple CPINs for each country, and each relates to a particular theme – for instance “Blood feuds, Albaniaor Religious Minorities, Iraq.

What sources of information do CPINs use?

CPINs are typically compiled using a wide range of factual sources, which are listed in the ‘Bibliography’ section at the end of the documents. These will range from reports by international organisations, charities and NGOs, such as the UNHCR, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, to journalistic sources, to documents produced by the government of the country in question.

The sources cited by CPINs are likely to vary significantly in terms of their independence and reliability. It may therefore sometimes be open to appellants to challenge the reliance placed upon them. Furthermore, as the sources cited are selectively quoted from, it may sometimes assist appellants to go back to the original sources and see whether these are more helpful to their case when taken in context.

In CPINs that relate to the provision of healthcare in the relevant country, a key source usually relied upon as a key source are ‘MedCOI’. These are reports financed by the Asylum and Migration Integration Fund, which are used jointly by a number of European countries. The CPINs that rely on MedCOI state, “The MedCOI team makes enquiries with qualified doctors and other experts working in countries of origin. The information obtained is reviewed by the MedCOI project team before it is forwarded to the UK or other national COI teams.”

Are CPINs more “policy” or more “information”?

As the name suggests CPINs contain both “policy” (usually under the heading ‘Assessment’) and “information” (usually under the heading ‘COI’, short for ‘country of original information’). This reflects the merger in 2014 of the Country of Origin Information Service, which produced strictly factual reports, and the Country Specific Litigation Team, which produced Operational Guidance Notes to form the new Country Policy Information Team.

A CPIN is therefore not just a factual document, but one that combines “facts” (albeit ones selected and collated by the Home Office) with the Home Office’s guidance to its own caseworkers. As such, it should be borne in mind that a CPIN is not strictly an objective document. In a recent case, the Upper Tribunal’s failure to recognise that CPINs were distinct from the purely factual reports produced by COIS was a ground on which permission to appeal was granted (although ultimately the Court of Appeal did not consider this to be a significant error on the facts of the case). 

This practice of including both factual and guidance elements in a single document was heavily criticised in a 2018 report by David Bolt, the then Independent Chief Inspector of Border and Immigration. The Inspector described it as “wrong in principle” and argued that, “whatever the intention, the effect is to direct the user towards a predetermined outcome, particularly where a significant body of asylum decision makers are inexperienced, unfamiliar with [Country of Origin Information], have insufficient time to master every detail, and are likely to interpret anything labelled “Policy” as something they are required to follow.”

Despite this, the Home Office has not changed its practice – although the preface section included in CPINs now states, “Decision makers must, however, still consider all claims on an individual basis, taking into account each case’s specific facts.” This is a potentially helpful line for appellants to cite if the Home Office has placed heavy reliance on its own CPIN in justifying a decision.

It cannot be presumed that everything contained within a CPIN is a statement of the Secretary of State’s policy, and subject to the legal duties that would apply in respect of that (such as the duty to disclose relevant policy to the Tribunal, or the duty to follow policy absent good reason to do otherwise). As made clear in the case of BH (policies/information: SoS’s duties) Iraq [2020] UKUT 00189 (IAC), country information produced and relied upon by the Home Office is not necessarily policy absent content that suggests that it is.

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Country of origin evidence can play a  crucial role in determining the outcome of immigration cases. For expert advice and assistance in relation to asylum or human rights appeals, contact our Immigration Barristers on 0203 617 9173 or complete our enquiry form below.


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