"Repugnant" Government's behaviour was "unlawful and an abuse of power"
Families expelled from the Chagos Islands by Britain to make way for an American airbase won their legal battle to return home yesterday.
Three judges led by the Master of the Rolls, Sir Anthony Clarke, refused a stay on the effect of their judgment, allowing the islanders to return immediately.
The judges had condemned as "repugnant" Whitehall's decision to "exile a whole population" in the 1960s and 1970s.
The only island that they will not be able to resettle under original High Court orders allowing their return will be Diego Garcia, where the airbase is situated.....
Lord Justice Sedley, who gave the lead ruling, said that by making an Order in Council under the Royal Prerogative to stop the islanders returning, the Government's behaviour was "unlawful and an abuse of power". The judges also rejected the Government's argument that the Royal Prerogative, discretionary powers that belong to the Queen but exercised by Government ministers in her name, were immune from judicial scrutiny.
Lord Justice Waller said that the decision had been taken by a minister "acting without any constraint".
"Indeed, the Crown may be doing something that - if she only knew the true position - she would prefer not to do, and yet it is then said that the Government can hide behind the Crown's prerogative."..
In 2000 the High Court overturned measures introduced by the Government in 1971 to keep the Chagossians in exile.
The court held the islanders had a right of return to the islands, although not to Diego Garcia. Robin Cook, the then foreign secretary, said there would be no appeal and a "feasibility study" would be conducted into the possibility of their return.
American military authorities were concerned that any attempt to resettle the islands would compromise the security of Diego Garcia, which was used to launch bombing missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Government then changed its mind and declared that no one had a "right of abode" in the territory.
That order was overturned by the High Court last May. The judges said at the time: "The suggestion that a minister can, through the means of 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."
(It is worth studying a map of the Islands to see how far away Diego Garcia is from the nearest habitable Island - about fifty miles).
So good news for the islanders and an enjoyable right royal bitch slapping for the government, is it too early to have a celebratory rum punch?