Wikipedia: edited by the public

TWO public bodies dealing with refugee claims had to put guidelines in place to stop civil servants and decision makers from using Wikipedia to adjudicate on asylum applications.

Investigators from the Refugee Applications Commissioner were basing some of their decisions on the online encyclopaedia, which is edited by the public and considered unreliable.

The Department of Jusrice has confirmed that members of the Commission and the Refugee Appeals Tribunal have been advised that Wikipedia should "not be used as a primary or reliable source" of information.

Concerns have been raised that entries on Wikipedia are changed for political reasons to reflect better human rights practices in some countries. A number of embassies in Ireland have repeatedly claimed there is no female genital mutilation in their country, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Robin Hanan, chief executive of the Irish Refugee Council, said: "We would welcome any guidelines clarifying the use of Wikipedia because there has been at least one high-profile case in recent years where this website was used in a decision."

The use of Wikipedia as a source has been heavily criticised in the US where lobby groups found references to it in more than 100 legal judgements.

Jason Richards of the American Association for Justice wrote: "More and more law students and law professors are citing to entries in this publicly authored website in their papers. Attorneys are relying on it in their legal briefs, expert witnesses are using it to support their opinions, and courts are citing the source either tangentially or, even worse, as the primary legal basis for their opinions."