Friday, May 19, 2006

Letter to the Foreign Secretary on the Chagos Islands case

From Lord Avebury P0619051

Tel 020-7274 4617

May 19, 2006

Dear Mrs Beckett,

I have read the judgement in the Chagos Islands case, EWHC 1038, and I also met Mr Olivier Bancoult for a discussion on the issue on Wednesday.

Clearly, your predecessors knew exactly what they were doing in hiding the fact that there was a civilian population on the islands, as the note of November 15, 1965 by an official quoted in paragraph 27 recognised, and the Commissioner was even more frank in his minute of June 1966, also quoted by Laws LJ in the previous case, “Bancoult 1” and repeated later in Para 27. We deliberately misled the Decolonisation Committee about the status of the islanders, a shabby piece of work intended to clear the way for us to exile them compulsorily from their homeland. It is also clear that we acted unlawfully in making the Order in Council which reversed Bancoult 1. As the judge said in para 142,

‘the suggestion that a minister can, through an Order in Council, exile a whole population from a British Overseas Territory and claim that he is doing so for the “peace, order and good government” of the territory is, to us, repugnant’.

As to the question of whether or not the removal of the islanders was challengeable, the bottom line is that ’the decision was in reality that of the Secretary of State, not of Her Mejesty, and is subject to judicial review in the ordinary way’ (para 163).

Sir Sydney Kentridge QC rightly described the treatment of the Chagossians as "outrageous, unlawful and a breach of accepted moral standards". He said there was no known precedent "for the lawful use of prerogative powers to remove or exclude an entire population of British subjects from their homes and place of birth".

In Gordon Brown’s keynote speech to the Fabian Future of Britishness conference on January he used the word ‘fairness’ repeatedly, citing a 2005 YouGov survey which showed that as many as 90 per cent of British people thought that fairness and fair play were very important or fairly important in defining Britishness. The behaviour of the Government towards the Chagossians has been monstrously unfair, and I hope you will not compound the wrong done to this small and powerless group by appealing against the High Court’s ruling in their favour.

Yours sincerely,

The Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Beckett MP,
Foreign & Commonwealth Office,
London SW1A 2AH.

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