Tebuke Rotan with his father Tito Rotan and other Banban elders attending UK Court Case


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By 1965, the Banabans frustrated by decades of constant disputes over their land leases, inadequate royalties, and realizing that the British Government had no intentions of looking after their affairs, lost all trust and took the final step of instigating legal proceeding in the British Court.


Here they hoped that the British justice system would prevail, and right the wrongs of the past.



The Banabans further extended their fight for justice in January 1974, when they submitted a petition to the British government calling for the separation of Ocean Island (Banaba) from the Gilbert and Ellice Island Colony (now known as the Republic of Kiribati) and the recognition of Banaba's independence.

The Banaban petition was referred to the Governor of the Colony, who duly consulted the newly-formed Council of Ministers which had been set up in May 1974, following the introduction of a new constitution in the colony.

It replied that it did not consider that the question of the separation of Ellice Island had any bearing on the future of Ocean Island, which was considered an integral part of the Gilbert Islands and added that it would oppose separation and independence for Ocean Island (Banaba) either now or in the future.


The Banabans court case against the British Government and the British Phosphate Commission (BPC) would finally come to an end in 1979 and become known as one of the longest court cases in UK history.

The Banabans would win their case against the British Phosphate Commission for their failure to replant a part of their island but were awarded derisory damages of £UK9,000 and made to pay their own court costs which amounted to over £UK300,000.

As a result of political pressure, the British Phosphate Commission offered £UK780,000 which the Banabans knew was still wholly insufficient and would not provide sufficient funds for the replanting of their island. 

In their other action against the British Government for breach of trust, the Banabans lost. The judge held that even though they had had a ‘raw deal’, in law, there was nothing that could help them. However, he made plain that there were grave breaches of a higher or governmental trust which his court was powerless to remedy, and made an unprecedented appeal to the Government to act accordingly.


After press and radio coverage in the UK culminating in the BBC television film “Go Tell it to the Judge”, and as a result of political and parliamentary pressure, the British Government offered (provided the Banabans did not appeal in their action against the Crown) to set up a trust fund to produce a pension for the Banaban community. They insisted that the capital, which amounted to £UK6.5 million ($AUD10 million) and taken from the BPC reserves must be put into the trust fund and only the interest from it paid to the Banabans.

More information is available - Te Rii Ni Banaba - The Backbone of Banaba" by R. Sigrah & S. King new edition available now on Ebook:

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Copyright 2001 K.Sigrah & S. King All Rights Reserved