Greece: Appeal rules amended after rebuttal of Turkey's safety

The Greek Parliament approved today an amendment to its asylum law (L 4375/2016), modifying the composition of Appeals Committees and the right of asylum seekers to be heard in appeals against negative decisions. This amendment was initially rejected and urgently reintroduced ahead of the adoption of a legislative bill on economic development.

The main changes brought about by the new law, L 4399/2016, concern the composition of the Appeals Committees examining appeals against negative decisions of the Asylum Service, which previously comprised of one representative of the Ministry of Interior, one UNHCR representative and one representative appointed from a list of human rights experts compiled by the National Commission on Human Rights. The Committees will now be made up of two judges of the Administrative Courts, appointed by the General Commissioner of the Administrative Courts (Γενικός Επίτροπος της Γενικής Επιτροπείας των Τακτικών Διοικητικών Δικαστηρίων), and one UNHCR representative. A representative from a list compiled by the National Commission of Human Rights may take part in the Committees if UNHCR is not in a position to appoint a member.

The new law also modified Article 60(4) of L 4375/2016 to enable EASO officials to conduct interviews of applicants in the context of the exceptional procedure applied at the border. Until recently, EASO staff could only support the Asylum Service in the conduct of the interviews.

At the same time, the amendment has removed Article 62(1)(e) of L 4375/2016, which allowed the appellant to request a personal hearing before the Appeals Committees at least two days before the appeal. This reinforces the general rule of examinations of appeals sur dossier, discussed in the AIDA report on Greece.

This legislative amendment comes shortly after the entry into force of the asylum law voted in April and several Appeals Committees’ decisions rebutting the “safe third country” presumption regarding Turkey. According to a new European Commission report, as many as 70 rulings of the Appeals Committees have rebutted this presumption and overturned the related first instance decisions of the Asylum Service, while 2 have upheld the first instance inadmissibility decisions.

Serious concerns were raised in the Parliament plenary debate ahead of the adoption of the amendment around its constitutionality. Main criticisms noted the uncertain role of the new Appeals Committees, which will entail the involvement of judicial officials in an administrative decision-making body. Members of Parliament namely referred to a ruling of the Greek Council of State in the area of forest disputes, which declared the participation of judicial officials in the Second Instance Commissions for the Resolution of Forest Disputes unconstitutional. The National Commission of Human Rights also questions the constitutionality of the new composition of the Appeals Committees and the compliance of the new law with the right to an effective remedy.

 

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