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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 6 August, 2002, 16:56 GMT 17:56 UK
Gurkhas win right to sue Britain
!st Battalion Royal Gurkhas in Kosovo, 1999
Gurkhas are Nepalese soldiers attached to the Army
Former Gurkha soldiers from Nepal have won the right to sue the British Government in the High Court for alleged racial discrimination.


So far, this government has acted with arrogance and indifference

Phil Shiner,
lawyer for the Gurkhas
The Gurkhas allege that they have been discriminated against in at least 20 different ways while serving with the British army and subsequently during retirement.

Lawyers for the troops filed a claim for damages at the High Court in May in an action that could cost the Ministry of Defence 2bn.

Their case is to be argued by Prime Minister Tony Blair's wife, Cherie Booth, a prominent barrister.

Nepalese soldiers have fought alongside British soldiers since 1815, and have served in recent years in the Falklands, the Gulf War, Kosovo, Bosnia, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan.

Equal pay demand

The soldiers argue that since a 1947 Tripartite Agreement between India, Nepal and the UK, the Gurkhas have been linked to the Indian Army's pay scale instead of the British army's.

Cherie Booth
Cherie Booth is representing the Gurkhas

They say this has resulted in a disparity between British pensions and those paid to the Gurkhas,

Phil Shiner, a solicitor with the Public Interest Lawyers group which is acting for the Gurkhas, said they were hoping for a decision from the High Court before Christmas.

"So far, this government has acted with arrogance and indifference," he was quoted by the Associated Press news agency as saying.

"I hope even at this late stage that sense will prevail."

In declaring the case admissible on Tuesday, the High Court gave the Defence Ministry until 9 September to put forward its arguments in the case.

British defence

A Defence Ministry spokeswoman told Reuters that the military would "robustly defend our position in court".

"The Gurkhas are treated well and will continue to be. We value their services and treat them in a good manner," she said.

But the Gurkhas' lawyers say they have 20 test cases, claiming that 30,000 Nepalese retired from the service with inadequate or no pension, and that widows had not been properly compensated for their loss.

Aside from financial complaints, they say they have been subjected to different rules on family leave, food, dress codes and religious practices.

It is not the first time that Ms Booth, who specialises in human rights abuses, has tackled her husband's government in court.

In May 2000, she argued on behalf of trade unions that the government needed to offer more leave benefits to parents of young children.

That case is before the European Court.

See also:

29 Apr 02 | England
19 Apr 02 | England
22 Mar 02 | South Asia
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