April 21, 2014.
Success of case could lead to return of hundreds of exiled islanders who were forced to leave archipelago
Chagos islanders: in the 1,500 residents were deported in 1971
and the largest island, Diego Garcia, was leased to the US
as a strategic air base. (Photograph: David Levene)
Britain's sovereignty over the Chagos Islands and America's lease for the Diego Garcia military base could be thrown into doubt by an international court hearing due to open in Istanbul on Tuesday.Read the rest here.
The case is considered of such importance that the attorney general, Dominic Grieve QC – the UK government's most senior law officer – will appear to defend Britain's declaration of a marine reserve around the archipelago.
The challenge by Mauritius to the legality of the marine protected area announced by the then foreign secretary, David Miliband, in April 2010, will be heard behind closed doors by the permanent court of arbitration (PCA), a United Nations-backed tribunal that resolves disagreements between states. Its rulings are binding.
Mauritius, which launched its legal challenge three years ago, believes its success could lead to the unravelling of Britain's colonial-era claim and the eventual return of hundreds of exiled islanders who have been forced to leave the archipelago. Many now live in Britain.
The PCA is based at The Hague, in the Netherlands, but its judicial proceedings are often held in neutral, international venues. Turkey is host for the latest round of the dispute. The hearing is expected to last several weeks although Grieve will only present the UK's opening arguments.
Teams of prominent British and American lawyers have also been hired by the UK and Mauritius. Among the UK counsel are Sir Michael Wood, a former Foreign Office adviser; Mauritius has recruited Prof James Crawford, Prof Philippe Sands QC and Elizabeth Wilmshurst, a Foreign Office lawyer who resigned on the eve of the invasion of Iraq.
The hearing will be held in secret with none of the proceedings open to the public. At some point it is hoped the documents may be made public, including internal Foreign Office documents relating to key decisions from 1965 to April 2010.
*****Comment: It is a pity the hearing will be held in secret but let's hope the outcome will reverse one of Britain's remaining colonial stands.