The Death of Diego Garcia?
The full text of the Approved Judgment of the Court of Appeal in the case of the Chagos Islanders (which includes the island of Diego Garcia) and The Attorney General with Her Majesty’s British Indian Ocean Territory Commissioner is available here. As I outlined some while ago, it is a tragic situation, involving as it does the US Government requirement for a military base in the region resulting in the complete removal of the indiginous population of Diego Garcia by the British Government, in compliance with the demands of the US Military.
Reading the background of the judgment, we see: "During the 1960s the United States administration decided that it required Diego Garcia as a strategic military base. The government of the United Kingdom set about accommodating this request, but at an early stage realised that it and the neighbouring islands had a substantial population". I find the statement "at an early stage realised that it and the neighbouring islands had a substantial population" almost unbelievable in the implication that there was an argument laid by the British Government that they were not aware of the existence of the people that lived on the islands.
The counsel representing the islanders in their plight, Mr Robin Allen QC, had submitted that the British Government were liable for their actions in the eviction of the population of the islands. Lord Justice Sedley, no stranger to controversy himself, in his judgment says of this, however; "The fallacy of his approach is seen most plainly in the contention that to exile people from the Queen's dominions without lawful authority is - because it must be - a tort. Exile without colour of law is forbidden by Magna Carta. That it can amount to a public law wrong is already established by the judgment in Bancoult. But to make it a state tort requires a legal system in which the Crown, in private law, can do wrong; and this, apart from the Human Rights Act, we do not have."
So, we find that Magna Carta gives the state (which was at the time comprised ONLY of England, by the way) the right do do whatever it wishes without being answerable to the people of Britain - save for the more modern provisions of the Human Rights Act, which is not applicable in this case through there being no provable harm to any physical body involved in the action.
The final Conclusion of the Judgment is: "This judgment brings to an end the quest of the displaced inhabitants of the Chagos Islands and their descendants for legal redress against the state directly responsible for expelling them from their homeland. They have not gone without compensation, but what they have received has done little to repair the wrecking of their families and communities, to restore their self-respect or to make amends for the underhand official conduct now publicly revealed by the documentary record. Their claim in this action has been not only for damages but for declarations securing their right to return. The causes of action, however, are geared to the recovery of damages, and no separate claims to declaratory relief have been developed before us. It may not be too late to make return possible, but such an outcome is a function of economic resources and political will, not of adjudication.
So, that's it then, is it? Subject closed?
Lord Justice Sedley has been a Lord Justice of Appeal since 1999