Moroccan man who sought asylum over fear of attacks from rival football group fails in challenge to rejection

Moroccan man who sought asylum over fear of attacks from rival football group fails in challenge to rejection

A Moroccan national who attempted to claim asylum in the UK based on his membership of an “ultra group” supporting a Casablanca football team has lost a judicial review claim of the decision to reject his application.

Petitioner AC, who was temporarily residing in Glasgow while his application was under consideration, argued he was at real risk of persecution if he returned to Morocco, where he would be subject to attacks by a rival ultra group, because of a perceived insult against them he had participated in in 2013.

The petition was considered by Lord Sandison in the Outer House of the Court of Session. Caskie, advocate, appeared for the petitioner and Maciver, advocate, for the respondent.

Object of revenge

It was claimed by the petitioner that he was a founding member of a group of football ultras called the Green Boys who supported the Raja Casablanca football team. This brought him into conflict with the ultras supporting the other main Casablanca team, Wydad, who were known as the Winners. He became the object of revenge attacks by members of the Winners after a viral photo on social media showed him along with other Green Boys holding a banner belonging to a Winners group upside down.

The petitioner’s account was that he was kidnapped, stabbed and burned by members of the Winners in January 2014 before being released on an assurance he would supply them with a Green Boys banner, presumably for a retaliation insult. Fearing infiltrating of the police by the Winners, he chose to flee Morocco and travelled through several countries before reaching the UK in the back of a lorry from Belgium.

After hearing evidence, the First-tier Tribunal did not entirely accept the petitioner’s version of events, specifically the possibility of police infiltration and the extent to which the original photograph had become the subject of social media attention. It did not accept that the petitioner was likely to be at risk from the wider Winners group but just from one specific band, with sufficient police protection available to mitigate that risk. Permission to appeal the decision was then refused by the Upper Tribunal.

It was submitted for the petitioner that the FtT had failed to give adequate reasons for why it rejected medical and expert evidence in support of the petitioner’s case. A medical report dated February 2021 had supported the evidence that he had been attacked on multiple occasions, and the FtT judge’s dismissal of an expert report into the ultra football fan scene in Morocco had been coloured by her disapproval of the way in which the expert expressed his views, with the report described as “at times impenetrable”.

Degree of irritation

In his decision, Lord Sandison said of the medical evidence: “An examination of the medical report reveals that it will not bear the weight which the petitioner seeks to place on it. The author acknowledges that it is not for her to come to any conclusions about the petitioner’s credibility, but rather to perform a critical and objective analysis of the injuries and symptoms displayed.”

He continued: “What the report does not do is suggest that there is any medical evidence which supports the petitioner’s specific claims as to when, where or in what precise circumstances any injury was sustained by him. Moreover, the petitioner attributed only one relevant scar to an attack other than the initial claimed attack on him in Casablanca in January 2014. While the report accepted that the scar was typical of that which would be left by a scalp laceration due to blunt force trauma, it could not and did not support any suggestion that any such attack had occurred in Fez, in 2015, at the hands of Winners ultras.”

Assessing the FtT’s treatment of the expert report, Lord Sandison said: “It is possible – though, one must hope, unlikely – that a judicial office holder may be so irked by the way in which expert evidential material is presented as to subjectively devalue its content in a way which has no proper justification, and thus fail to take proper advantage of whatever insights it may truly have to offer. One would, however, expect to see some clear sign of that approach having been taken, such as unmerited or excessive criticism of the material, or unexplained and inexplicable rejection of well-reasoned and supported conclusions contained in it. Nothing of the sort is apparent in the judgment of the FTT.”

He went on to say: “At its highest – and it may be that this is putting it too highly – all that appears is a degree of mild irritation that quite so much effort has had to be put in to understand what might have been capable of much simpler explanation. Further, far from rejecting the content and conclusions of the report out of hand, the judge accepted some points which it made in the petitioner’s favour concerning the nature of ultra groups and the potential consequences of the petitioner’s treatment of the banner.”

Lord Sandison concluded: “The Upper Tribunal refused the petitioner permission to appeal to it for the following succinct reasons: ‘The grounds are not arguably more than disagreement with the weighing of selected aspects of the evidence. They ignore the principal reasons given by the FtT. They identify no error on a point of law by which the decision might arguably be set aside.’ It is not possible to improve on that statement as a summary of the position presented both to the Upper Tribunal and to this Court by way of the present application.”

The petition was therefore refused.

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