Government of the British Indian Ocean Territory

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The British Indian Ocean Territory (abbreviated as BIOT) is an overseas territory of the United Kingdom. It is administered by a Commissioner, located at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. There is no Governor appointed to represent the Queen in the territory as there are no permanent inhabitants (as is also the case in South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and the British Antarctic Territory).

Home of the British Representative in the territory.


The laws of the territory are based on the constitution, currently set out in the British Indian Ocean Territory (Constitution) Order 2004.[1][2] The Order allows for:

  • the appointment of the Commissioner by the Queen (Article 4);
  • appointments to other offices by the Commissioner (Article 7);
  • no right of abode in the territory (Article 9);
  • the Commissioner's power to make laws for the territory's peace, order and good government (Article 10);
  • the disallowance of laws made by Commissioner by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Article 11);
  • the Commissioner's powers of pardon (Article 12); and
  • the operation of the courts (Article 13).

If the Commissioner has not made a law on a particular topic then, in most circumstances, the laws that apply in the territory are the same as those that apply in England and Wales under the terms of the Courts Ordinance 1983.[3] As almost all residents of the BIOT are members of the United States military, however, in practice crimes are more commonly charged under United States military law.[4]


The territory was formally acquired by the United Kingdom under the Treaty of Paris in 1814 and subsequently formed part of the British colony of Mauritius until its detachment as a separate territory in 1965. The head of state from 1952 has been Elizabeth II, as Queen of the United Kingdom.

The Commissioner is currently Ben Merrick, who is also Director of Overseas Territories in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Commissioner of the British Antarctic Territory;[5] the Deputy Commissioner is Stephen Hilton and the Administrator is Kit Pyman. The Commissioner's Representative in the territory is the officer commanding the detachment of British forces.[6]

There is no legislature (or elections) in the territory as there are no permanent inhabitants.

View of East Point, Diego Garcia, from the air.


The following persons have served as the territory's Chief Justice, overseeing a small legal system for the jurisdiction: Sir John Farley Spry (1981-1987);[7] Sir John Fieldsend (1987-1998);[8] Christopher Gardner (c.2007); and Simon Bryan (since 2015).[9] Appeals from the territory's courts can be heard by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, located in London.[10]

Capital punishment is prohibited under the domestic law of the territory. While United States military law (which does provide for capital punishment) applies for most BIOT residents, the 1966 exchange of notes which initially established the governance of the territory states: "A death sentence shall not be carried out in the Territory by the military authorities of the United States."[11]

US military presence[edit]

Applicable treaties between the United Kingdom and the United States of America govern the use of the military base. The first exchange of notes, signed on 30 December 1966, constituted an agreement concerning the availability for defence purposes of the British Indian Ocean Territory.[12] This was followed by agreements on the construction of a communications facility (1972), naval support facility (1976), construction contracts (1987), and monitoring facility (1999).


  1. ^ "British Indian Ocean Territory (Constitution) Order 2004 – a Freedom of Information request to Privy Council Office". 9 November 2012.
  2. ^ Cormacain, Ronan (September 1, 2013). "Prerogative legislation as the paradigm of bad law-making: the Chagos Islands". Commonwealth Law Bulletin. 39 (3): 487–508. doi:10.1080/03050718.2013.822317 – via Taylor and Francis+NEJM.
  3. ^ British Indian Ocean Territory Ordinance No 3 of the 1983 ("the Courts Ordinance"), Article 3.1.
  4. ^ U.S./U.K. BIOT agreements, 1966-1987 Archived 2012-07-16 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ "Ben Merrick, Director, Overseas Territories, and Commissioner, British Antarctic Territory". Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Retrieved 16 June 2020.
  6. ^ "Governance". BIOT. British Indian Ocean Territory Administration. Retrieved 16 June 2020.
  7. ^ "Spry, Sir John Farley (1910-1999) Knight" (PDF). Middle East Centre, St Antony’s College. Retrieved 21 June 2016.
  8. ^ The International Who's Who 2004
  9. ^ "Simon Bryan QC appointed as Chief Justice of the Falkland Islands and Other Overseas Territories". Essex Court. Retrieved 21 June 2016.
  10. ^ "Role of the JCPC". Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Retrieved 16 June 2020.
  11. ^ "Annex 2, Paragraph 1(g)" (PDF). UN Treaty Series: 286. 1967. Retrieved 16 June 2020.
  12. ^ "Exchange of notes constituting an agreement concerning the availability for defense purposes of the British Indian Ocean Territory". UN Treaty Series. 603: 273. 1967. Retrieved 16 June 2020.

External links[edit]