Clifford Chance fails in JR application for Chagos Islanders

The High Court has thrown out a challenge by the Chagos Islanders to the Government over its decision to enforce a Marine Protected Area (MPA) around the Indian Ocean archipelago.

In a judgment handed down this morning (11 June), Lord Justice Richards and Mr Justice Mitting dismissed the challenge, brought by islander Louis Bancoult, fighting the Government’s 2010 decision to impose a MPA around the islands. Bancoult said the MPA was intended to prevent the islanders from returning to the territory, from which they were moved in the 1970s when a US defence facility was being set up there.

Clifford Chance consultant Richard Gifford has been acting for the Chagos Islanders for some time. He instructed 39 Essex Street’s Nigel Pleming QC, Richard Wald and Stephen Kosmin and Brick Court Chambers’ Maya Lester for the latest action.

Pleming faced Blackstone Chambers’ Kieron Beal QC alonside 39 Essex Street’s Steven Kovats QC who were instructed by the Treasury Solicitor for the Government.

The claim is the latest in a long-running saga of litigation, which has seen some victories for the islanders including a compensation settlement in 1982. However more recent claims have been less successful. Earlier this year the European Court of Human Rights rejected an attempt to bring the case to Europe, ruling the claim was inadmissible (3 January 2013).

In today’s judgment Richards LJ rejected all five grounds for complaint, ruling that the Government had not taken the decision to impose an MPA “for improper purpose”. Richards LJ also said that the 2012 decision of the European Commission to reject a complaint brought against the Government by the islanders was correct and that the MPA complies with EU law.

The Chagos Refugees Group said it was considering whether or not to appeal the decision.

The group added that Chagossians were the “natural guardians” of the islands and that their return home would not endanger coral reefs or remaining fish stocks.

“Our right to return is fundamental and will never be surrendered. The outcome of this judicial review does not affect and is without prejudice to other avenues that we are currently exploring. We shall accordingly continue our fight for justice and we are strongly convinced that ultimately victory will be ours,” the group statement said.

For the claimant Bancoult

Clifford Chance partner Richard Gifford instructed 39 Essex Street’s Nigel Pleming QC, Richard Wald and Stephen Kosmin and Brick Court Chambers’ Maya Lester

For the defendant the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

Blackstone Chambers’ Kieron Beal QC, 39 Essex Street’s Steven Kovats QC leading 20 Essex Street’s Penelope Nevill instructed by the Treasury Solicitor