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Chagos Islanders in the High Court

DATE: 12 Aug 2016

Today, the High Court heard argument on behalf of Chagos Islanders challenging the government’s British Indian Ocean Resettlement Policy (‘BIOT’) Review. 

The claim follows a long line of previous cases that have come before the courts seeking a just solution to an historic wrong: the exile of the entire population of Chagos Islanders from their homeland on the Chagos Archipelego. In the history of British colonialism, it is the sole example of the exile of an entire population of British citizens. The Divisional Court has held that it was achieved unlawfully. The Court of Appeal described the “shameful treatment” of the Chagossians as the “pauperisation and expulsion of the weak in the interests of the powerful”. The House of Lords has found, and the government accepts, that the exile was achieved with a callous disregard of the interests of Chagossians.

This claim relates to a new, political process to find a solution to the long-standing grievance. The government is actively considering, through its BIOT resettlement policy review (‘the Policy Review’), whether to grant to some or all Chagossians the right of abode they have been seeking for 45 years. At the same time, the government is considering options to support Chagossians who can not resettle in their current communities. To this end, in August 2015, the Defendant launched a consultation on a range of options for resettlement, as well as alternatives to resettlement, including: “the full range of options that could respond to Chagossian aspirations… [and] provide support for Chagossians to flourish in their current communities, and build their lives there.”

Notwithstanding the apparent breadth of the consultation, it transpired that the government had privately excluded the possibility of providing any financial support to any Chagossians in their current communities.

In the High Court, the Claimant argued that the consultation was carried out in breach of the Coughlan principles; and that the decision to exclude the possibility of financial support to Chagossians who were unable to resettle on account of age, disability or medical need was i) irrational and ii) taken in breach of the public sector equality duty. 

Toby Fisher appeared on behalf of the Claimants.