Thursday, June 13, 2013

How very British

Back in the 1960's and 70's, the British government ethnically cleansed the island of Diego Garcia to make way for a US military base. Its inhabitants, the Chagossians, were forcibly deported from their homes and dumped in a slum in Mauritius. Stripped of their citizenship, they've been fighting to get their islands back ever since.

After losing a few court battles, the British government's latest move was to turn the entire area into a vast marine reserve, in which people - other than US military personnel and their rendered prisoners, of course - would be forbidden to live. Naturally, this was challenged in court. Unfortunately, the government won.

[Commissioner for the British Indian Ocean Territory] Roberts denied under cross-examination at the high court that the marine park was created for the "improper purpose" of keeping the Chagossians out as the US wanted, and said it was for environmental and conservation purposes.

On Tuesday the judges accepted his evidence. Richards said "a truly remarkable set of circumstances" would have to have existed for the case on improper purpose to be right, involving a long-term decision "somewhere deep in government" to frustrate Chagossian ambitions by promoting the MPA.

"Those circumstances would provide an unconvincing plot for a novel. They cannot found a finding for the claimant on this issue," Richards ruled.

That of course is exactly what did happen. But it would apparently be impolite to recognise that, so the court clings to the legal fiction that it did not happen. Incapable of admitting the truth, they are thus incapable of providing justice to those it has wronged.

There will inevitably be an appeal. The question is whether the British courts can recognise the substantive case and provide justice, or whether they will ignore it because of what is essentially a code of politeness between criminals.