Thursday, July 21, 2011

Suit Against British Government for Torture During Colonial Rule in Kenya

In what might prove to be a very significant judgment making new law, the High Court in London has allowed a suit against the British government for torture in Kenya 50 years ago. Via the BBC:
Mr Justice McCombe said the claimants had an "arguable case" and it would be "dishonourable" to block the claims. 
Ministers say London is not responsible for the actions of the colonial administration.
... the British government will have to defend accusations of torture, murder, sexual assault and other alleged abuses at a full damages trial in 2012.
Justice McCombe wrote:  "In my judgment, it may well be thought strange, or perhaps even 'dishonourable', that a legal system which will not in any circumstances admit into its proceedings evidence obtained by torture should yet refuse to entertain a claim against the government in its own jurisdiction for that government's allegedly negligent failure to prevent torture which it had the means to prevent."

It would be interesting to see whether UK courts will allow similar claims in respect of torture in other colonies. I suspect that historians would be able to document abuses in other places like India. However, given the amount of time that has lapsed, there are unlikely to be many surviving victims in a position to bring claims in the UK. Still, this has the potential to take legal responsibility for torture by colonial authorities in a new, welcome direction. It would be even more interesting if the UK courts allow submissions by the governments of former colonies in such actions.