Kenyan torture ruling 'historic'

A decision which clears the way for damages claims by three elderly Kenyan victims of torture during the Mau Mau uprising has been hailed as historic.

Last year, the trio won a ruling that they had "arguable cases in law" but the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) maintained the legal actions were barred as they were brought outside the time limit.

The FCO said it faced "irredeemable difficulties" on the availability of witnesses and documents, and that a fair trial was no longer possible.

But lawyers for Wambugu Wa Nyingi, Paulo Muoka Nzili and Jane Muthoni Mara said it was an exceptional case in which Mr Justice McCombe should exercise his discretion in their favour.

After he announced that the claims could proceed to trial, solicitors Leigh Day & Co said the Government would face potentially thousands of claims from Kenyans who suffered similar torture.

Senior partner Martyn Day said: "This is an historic judgment which will reverberate around the world and will have repercussions for years to come. Following this judgment, we can but hope that our Government will at last do the honourable thing and sit down and resolve these claims. There will undoubtedly be victims of colonial torture, from Malaya to the Yemen, from Cyprus to Palestine, who will be reading this judgment with great care."

An FCO spokesman said it would appeal. He said: "The British Government is disappointed with the judgment. The judgment was not a finding of liability but a procedural decision following a preliminary hearing on limitation, which allows the cases to go to a full trial.

"The judgment has potentially significant and far-reaching legal implications. The normal time limit for bringing a civil action is three to six years. In this case, that period has been extended to over 50 years despite the fact that the key decisionmakers are dead and unable to give their account of what happened.

In his ruling, the judge said there was "an amply sufficient documentary base" to test what was known in London about excessive use of force in the camps throughout the period of the emergency, and what London's reaction to that knowledge was.

In a statement, Archbishop Desmond Tutu called on the Government to "resolve this issue once and for all". He said: "The courts have now rejected their legal defence twice in two years. It is high time the Government stop avoiding responsibility and show some compassion."