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Chagossians seek permission to appeal High Court ruling

​A group of people born in the Chagos Islands are going to seek permission to appeal the High Court judgment handed down today, which dismissed their claims against the UK government.

Indian Ocean Territory

8 February 2019

 The claimants in this case, Solange Hoareau and Louis Olivier Bancoult, argued that a decision taken by the UK Government in November 2018, not to support the resettlement of the Chagossians, was unlawful and asked the High Court to quash it in two consolidated judicial reviews. 

The High Court today dismissed the cases. The Right Honourable Lord Justice Singh and The Honourable Mrs Justice Carr said in their ruling:

“The [claimants] submit that this case ... concerns an interference with fundamental human rights at common law. Accordingly, they submit that the way in which the standard of irrationality is applied in the human rights context is as described in Ex p. Smith. We do not accept those submissions.  We do not consider that the present case concerns fundamental rights at common law…This is not a case where fundamental rights are affected...  This is because this Court has to proceed on the basis that the legal rights which existed previously have been extinguished at least by the 2004 Orders.” [paras 102-104]

Leigh Day represents Solange Hoareau. She was born and brought up on Diego Garcia, as were her mother and grandparents. Diego Garcia is her home but like all of the Chagossian people, she was forcibly removed from the islands. She was transported to the Seychelles, where she now lives.

Ms Hoareau said:

“For years, we have fought tirelessly to be able to return home to our Islands and we will continue to do so. We have been dealt a blow today but we will fight on to try to hold the UK Government to account for their shameful actions.”

Rosa Curling, solicitor at Leigh Day, said:

“Our client is disappointed by the High Court ruling today and she will be seeking permission to appeal from the Court of Appeal. She had hoped the decades worth of injustice faced by the Chagossian would end today but sadly, no. Our client will continue her fight to have her right of abode properly recognised and her homeland returned.”
 

Background

 
The UK government was responsible for the forced eviction of all inhabitants of the Chagos Islands (around 2,000 people) between 1968 and 1971. Some of those inhabitants were relocated to Mauritius, others to the Seychelles.  The largest island – Diego Garcia – was subsequently leased to the United States, who now operates a military base from there.

In April 1971 an order was made to prohibit anyone from entering or remaining on the islands without a permit. The order was quashed in a legal case in 2000 but the government subsequently introduced the British Indian Ocean Territory (Constitution) Order 2004 and the British Indian Ocean Territory (Immigration) Order 2004 which imposed the same prohibitions on Chagos Islanders returning to their homeland.

The government carried out a review of their policy on resettlement of the Chagos Islands between 2012 – 2016. As part of that review, KPMG was commissioned to investigate the feasibility of resettlement and concluded, contrary to earlier assumptions, that resettlement was feasible. A consultation with Chagossians found that 98% of them wanted to move home to the islands. Despite this, on 16 November 2016 the UK Government announced that it would not support the resettlement of Chagossians and would instead allocate £40m towards a 10-year support package to improve the lives of Chagossians in their current communities.  The current legislation prohibiting the Chagossians from enjoying any right of abode in the BIOT remains in effect.

The Chagossians were not given any replacement houses on Mauritius or the Seychelles and many have since lived in abject poverty, with a deep sadness and longing for their homeland. Although the UK government has repeatedly stated that the exile of the Chagossians was wrong the government has only ever paid compensation to the Mauritian Chagossians. No compensation was ever paid to the Chagossians who were exiled to the Seychelles.

Ms Horeau argued that the decision of November 2016 is unlawful on a number of grounds, including (i) the Secretary of State erroneously concluded that a decision not to fund resettlement was determinative of the separate question of whether to lift the constitutional bar on the right of Chagossians to return to their homeland; (ii) the decision was irrational and/or amounted to a disproportionate interference with the fundamental rights of the Chagossians; (iii) the government acted irrationally and unfairly by failing to undertake any assessment of the needs to which the £40m Support Package was directed and breached a legitimate expectation of consultation in relation to the scope and value of the Support Package; and (iv) in taking the decision, the government failed to comply with its Public Sector Equality Duties.

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