Clifford Chance’s fight for Chagos Islanders fails in ECHR

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that claims against the UK Government by Chagos Islanders are inadmissible, seven years after the case was filed.

The Chagossians, represented by Clifford Chance consultant Richard Gifford and Brick Court Chambers’ David Anderson QC and Maya Lester, filed the claim in their ongoing attempt to return to the islands. The islanders were evicted between 1967 and 1973 after the UK Government, which controls the territory, agreed that the US could establish a defence facility there.

The eviction has been the subject of several court claims over the years. In 1982 tort claims brought by Chagossian Michel Ventacassan were settled with compensation paid to islanders who had been settled in Mauritius.

Litigation continued in the late 1990s and the early 2000s. In April 2002 nearly 4,500 islanders launched a group litigation against the Attorney General. Mr Justice Ouseley struck out the case in 2003 (14 October 2003).

The Government then issued orders forbidding anyone from living in the territory and also abandoned plans to conduct a study examining the feasibility of resettling the Chagos Islands.

Islander Olivier Bancoult issued judicial review proceedings against the orders, which were eventually rejected by the House of Lords in 2008.

In 2004 the islanders also lodged proceedings in the ECHR under several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights.

On 20 December 2012 seven judges of the ECHR ruled that the British Indian Ocean Territory did not come under the jurisdiction of the convention, despite a number of the islanders now living in the UK. The court also ruled that the 1982 settlement meant that the islanders were no longer victims.

“The heart of the applicants’ claims under the convention is the callous and shameful treatment which they or their antecedents suffered from 1967 to 1973, when being expelled from, or barred from return to, their homes on the islands and the hardships which immediately flowed from that. These claims were raised in the domestic courts and settled, definitively,” said the ECHR in its judgment.

Brick Court’s Jemima Stratford QC also appeared in the ECHR hearing, acting for interveners Human Rights Watch and the Minority Rights Group.

The Chagossians are continuing their fight in the UK courts. A judicial review of the Government’s decision to impose a Marine Protection Zone around the islands is pending.