A decision that clears the way for damages claims by three elderly Kenyan victims of torture during the Mau Mau uprising was hailed as historic yesterday.
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 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 yesterday 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. “The British government is disappointed with today’s judgment,” he added.
“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 decision-makers are dead and unable to give their account of what happened.
“At the same time, we do not dispute that each of the claimants in this case suffered torture and other ill-treatment at the hands of the colonial administration. We have always said that we understand the pain and grievance felt by those, on all sides, who were involved in the divisive and bloody events of the emergency period in Kenya, and it is right that those who feel they have a case are free to take it to the courts.”