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Anniversary IARLJ


TEN YEARS ON – a short history of the IARLJ

There was a development of gatherings of the professions internationally generally in the 1990’s. In 1993 Lord Clyde a senior Scottish judge was due to attend one of these gatherings and wished to learn more about immigration and asylum.

He remarked on the fact that his association met once every two years, I think it was, but in between nothing happened which we both felt was a weakness in any such cross boundary relationships. At this point it occurred to us that since asylum and refugee law is based on a world wide Convention, judges and independent decision makers from all parts of the globe would benefit from being about to meet and discuss how best to discharge their role in this area. Thus was the idea of an international association of independent decision makers in this area born.

I asked him to trawl among his fellow judges for any who may be interested in such association of judges who had some particular interest in immigration and asylum.

I floated the idea with (Professor) Elspeth Guild and some colleagues. The responses being encouraging she gathered judges from at least eight countries -  Sebastiaan de Groot, Walter Stöckli, Gaetan de Moffarts, Roger Errera, Joachim Henkel, Erik Möse, Igor Belko and Nurjehan Mawani as well as such strong supporters as Arthur Helton, Denis Macnamara  and Francis Jacobs.

I had already met Jacek Chlebny in about 1991 when he came with a delegation of newly appointed Polish judges and I had also developed a close relationship with UNHCR in the UK and Geneva. People such as Rick Towle, Sten Bronee, Phillipe Lavanchy, Frank Krenz, Eileen Kahn and others.

A decision was made to start off with a conference in London and with the help and guidance of Elspeth we raised about £25000  from Rowntrees, the Council of Europe and UNHCR.

I was fortunate in being able to interest Sir John Laws to come on board as chairman of that first gathering in Inner Temple on 1 and 2 December 1995 and through him other judges were attracted such as Sir Stephen Sedley and Lord Justice Simon Brown (as he then was).

Following up my talks with Lord Clyde I asked  Lord Hope, then Lord President in Scotland, for support and particularly that he should allow Lord Clyde to become involved.  He started a policy of support which continued  - but told me plainly that he would nominate the judges who would represent Scotland!

At the time this was something of an issue as we were concerned to ensure that the association should be of individual judges in order to ensure that the association would have independent views. He appointed Lord Cameron and later  Lord Osborne who both became enthusiastic participants.

With this sort of support senior judiciary from other countries joined in - from Italy, Eire,  Russia, Sweden, Bulgaria, New Zealand,  the USA and Australia.

We also brought in  a powerful group of speakers at the first conference including Francis Jacobs, Guy Goodwin Gill, Richard Plender, Nuala Mole of AIRE and Thomas Spijkerboer from the Netherlands.

The Steering Committee  comprised  a representative core – indeed as we were flexible  and our meetings convivial and held at various capitals most of the 37 countries represented at the Conference managed to make an input during the preparations.  We included a member of the Canadian High Commission to represent the IRB. This cooperative approach to settling the programme, the speakers and some of the other detail paid off well and was repeated as far as possible in the next three Conferences. I think some of the benefit of this inclusive approach has been lost since at some of the conferences.

It was at a port mortem in the bowels of the Strand Hotel on the Saturday following the Conference that Shun Chetty from UNHCR and Australia strongly followed up John Laws’ lead to develop international cooperation and not lose what we had achieved on those two days. Shun said he looked forward to having a home in every country in the world. Sadly he died before achieving his dream.

It could be said that it was there that the IARLJ was really born.

We were fortunate – there was money left over from the conference which we lived off for some time to come (plus the sales of the first publication of the Conference papers) and until the very generous Netherlands Government took on the responsibility of the administration of the association and has done this ever since.  The Lord Chancellor was also generous in allowing me and my secretary Janice Cotton both the time and the facilities to carry on without interference.

The next Conference in January 1997 in Nijmegen was well organised by the university there and opened by the Minister of Justice. Five more countries were represented including Georgia whose Supreme Administrative President later went on to the European Court of Human Rights.

In 1997 the President of the Supreme Administrative Court in Poland, Roman Hauser, invited us to hold a seminar in Warsaw Poland and there 15 judges from 12 countries adopted the Provisional Constitution.

In between the World Conferences members met with each other and with other colleagues in many different parts of the world. There were seminars on different topics which brought in interested participants from governments, lawyers and academics. There were “training sessions” all over the world from Tokyo to Tanzania  held on the back of the CMJA Conference in Cape Town in November 1997. Many were invited to participate and speak at events in different countries – USA in Anaheim and Washington University, Netherlands in the Presence of the Crown Prince not to speak of the UNHCR and our secondment to South Africa to assist in setting up their own refugee determination appeals  body. and other gatherings.

At each successive Conference the countries represented  widened and membership increased. But the original funds has run out and we lived from hand to mouth sustained only by the generosity of the Netherlands Government and the enthusiasm of members often out of their own pockets.

The  Conference in Ottawa in October 1998 opened by the Deputy Secretary General of UN was significant on several fronts. First representatives included Japan, South Africa, Iran, Sri Lanka, Benin, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Romania Philippines, Lebanon, Hungary, Panama, Swaziland, Bahamas, Cote d’Ivoire, Burkino Faso, Kenya and Uganda. Second it adopted the provisional constitution following and third the Training Workshops gave rise to the Training Manual.

To what extent the fifth Declaration of procedural fairness in the Ottawa Declaration on respect for individual rights and liberties has survived in tact in most parts of the world is open to debate.

The need for some recognition of regional differences and priorities has been just as significant for the IARLJ as for other similar bodies. We have eschewed regional representation but the problems have been answered in part by the Regional Chapters. Inevitably the European Chapter is seen by some to have too big an influence. This I think is due to UNHCR being in Europe, the EU being the most developed regional bloc and the money is there!

Doubtless there will be some correcting balance as the Americas Chapter gets into its stride and the Africa Chapter is really up and running.

It will only however be able to function efficiently when there is money to support a full time staffed directorate like the IBA, CMJA or CLA for example. But even the latter two are totally underfunded.

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