The Icelandic Immigration & Asylum Appeals Board Found UTL’s Policy Prohibiting Asylum Seekers From Choosing Legal Representation Unlawful

With a long-awaited decision on 6 July 2023, the Immigration & Asylum Appeals Board struck down the Directorate of Immigration‘s (UTL) unlawful policy prohibiting applicants of international protection in Iceland from choosing the lawyer appointed to represent them at the start and during the asylum procedure.

UTL’s policy dictated that applicants of international protection must accept the lawyer the institution appointed them. Selecting a lawyer of their own choosing would be at their own cost. Under the policy, UTL also refused to appoint applicants their choice of new representation in instances where a successful case re-examination request was brought by a new lawyer. In those instances, per UTL’s policy, the previous lawyer would be re-assigned to the applicant’s case against their will and interests.

Our clients challenged this policy before the Immigration & Asylum Appeals Board and argued that such a restriction by the Directorate of Immigration was inconsistent with Iceland’s international human rights obligation to guarantee applicants for international protection the right to a fair hearing. In addition, CPLS argued on behalf of our clients that UTL’s decision was unlawful and inconsistent with the provisions of the Act on Foreigners’ no. 80/2016. CPLS furthermore argued that fundamental to any legal representation is the trust between a lawyer and client and that UTL’s unlawful restriction interfered with the client-lawyer relationship.

The Immigration & Asylum Appeals Board agreed with CPLS’s position and held that an applicant must be able to select his choice of representation at the start of the process, though he might not be able to change during the procedure as this could affect the effectiveness of the procedure. Additionally, the Board considered that a successful re-examination of a case brought by a new lawyer also marks a new asylum procedure. The Board, therefore, held that in such cases, UTL is obligated to honour the applicant’s wish to be represented by the new lawyer rather than the previously appointed one.

CPLS celebrates this important precedent and recognises its importance in ensuring applicants a fair asylum procedure. It is our view that this decision re-affirms the importance of trust between a lawyer and his client.