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The Chagos Islands Cases: The Empire Strikes Back

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Colin MurrayORCiD


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Good governance requires the accommodation of multiple interests in the cause of decision making. However, undue regard for particular sectional interests can take their toll upon public faith in government administration. Historically, broad conceptions of the good of the commonwealth were employed to outweigh the interests of groups that resisted colonisation. In the decision making of the British Empire, the standard approach for justifying the marginalisation of the interests of colonised groups was that they were uncivilised and that particular hardships were the price to be paid for bringing to them the imperial dividend of industrial society. It is widely assumed that with the dismantling of the British Empire, such impulses and their accompanying jurisprudence became a thing of the past. Even as decolonisation proceeded apace after the Second World War, however, the United Kingdom maintained control of strategically important islands with a view towards sustaining its global role. In an infamous example from this twilight period of empire, in the 1960s imperial interests were used to justify the expulsion of the Chagos islanders from the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). Into the twenty-first century, this forced elision of the UK’s interests with the imperial “common good” continues to take centre stage in courtroom battles over the islanders’ rights, being cited before domestic and international tribunals in order to maintain the Chagossians’ exclusion from their homeland. This article considers the new jurisprudence of imperialism which has emerged in a string of decisions which have continued to marginalise the Chagossians’ interests.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Murray C, Frost T

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly

Year: 2015

Volume: 66

Issue: 3

Pages: 263-288

Print publication date: 30/11/2015

Acceptance date: 01/09/2015

ISSN (print): 0029-3105

Publisher: Queen's University Belfast