In a landmark judgement that could pave the way for other victims of the British “raj” to sue for damages, the High Court on Friday allowed three elderly Kenyans to go ahead with their case demanding compensation from the U.K. government for their ill-treatment — including torture — by colonial forces for their alleged role in the Mau Mau rebellion in the 1950s and 1960s.
The verdict, hailed as a “historic” turn in the Kenyans’ long legal battle, means that the case will go to a full trial despite the government’s argument that the normal time limit for bringing civil action of this nature has elapsed.
In his ruling, Justice McCombe said the victims had established a proper case for the court to exercise its discretion, and it had, therefore, decided t allow their claims to proceed to trial.
Lawyers for the claimants — Paulo Muoka Nzili, Wambuga Wa Nyingi and Jane Muthoni Mara — said they would seek a trial “as quickly as possible” but would also press for an out-of-court settlement. A fourth claimant, Ndiku Mutwiwa Mutua, has died since the case began.
The government said the verdict had “potentially significant and far-reaching legal implications” and planned to appeal. During the hearings, the government admitted that its colonial forces in Kenya tortured and abused Mau Mau rebels but argued that because of the time-lapse it faced “irredeemable difficulties” in relation to the availability of witnesses and documents.