On Wednesday 22 October the Law Lords decided by a majority of three-to-two to allow the Government’s appeal against the Chagos islanders.
In short, it means that the highest court in the land has decided the ‘Orders in Council’ used secretly to renew the islanders’ eviction in 2004 (after they had won the right to return four years earlier) were indeed legal, despite the High Court and Court of Appeal having said they were not.
For the Chagossians it’s a devastating blow, because it leaves them with few other places to turn in their legal battle to get home. They can still take their case to the European Court of Human Rights, but as Matthew Parris wrote in The Times, “a Whitehall that has successfully denied them justice for a quarter of a century will find the ingenuity to continue blocking their return. Everybody knows why. It’s the Americans.”
Apart from that they can work to persuade the Government to do the right thing and let them return. The Foreign Affairs Committee is on their side, saying in a report this summer that there is a “strong moral case” for resettlement, and describing the Government’s reasoning for not allowing it as “less than convincing”. But with David Miliband repeating the tired old nonsense about adequate compensation having been paid and that it’s all very sad but let’s just move on, appealing to the Government’s better nature doesn’t look hugely promising.
But the islanders are not giving up. Olivier Bancoult, head of the Chagos Refugees Group, said in response to the decision: “This is not the end. What we are fighting is a just and noble cause.”
One final point: the decision is not just terrible news for the islanders, it has scary implications for us all. This letter to The Times from a Hungarian immigrant to the UK picks out some of the reasons why.