Last week the Greek Parliament approved an amendment to its asylum law to modify the composition of Appeals Committees and removed the possibility for asylum seekers to request a personal hearing before the Committees.

The main change brought about by the new law concerns the composition of the Appeals Committees which are tasked with examining appeals of negative asylum decisions of the Asylum Service. The Appeals Committees will now be made up of two judges of the Administrative Courts, appointed by the General Commissioner of the Administrative Courts, 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.

Up until now the three-person Committee was composed by one government representative, one UNHCR representative and one human rights expert from a list compiled by the National Commission on Human Rights.

In addition, the new law clarifies that EASO officials may conduct admissibility interviews in the context of the ‘fast-track’ procedure applied at the border. Under the previous law, EASO was only competent to support the Greek Asylum Service conducting the interviews.

At the same time, the amendment has removed the possibility for the appellant to request a personal hearing before the Appeals Committees at least two days before the appeal. 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. The National Commission of Human Rights also questioned 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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An amended version of this article originally appeared in the Asylum Information Database (AIDA).

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 24 June 2016. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.