By Ray Fleming

FOUR elderly Kenyans yesterday heard a judge of Britain's High Court rule that they had a legal right to pursue their case for compensation for the ill- treatment and torture they allegedly suffered at the hands of the British colonial government in the 1950s during the Ma Mau uprising. The ruling, by Mr Justice McCombe, came three months after the Kenyans' application was contested by the Foreign Office on a number of grounds, including the time that had elapsed since the alleged ill-treatment and, more particularly, that the responsibility for whatever may have happened had devolved from the British Colonial Office to the Kenyan government at the moment it achieved independence in 1964. When I wrote on this subject in this space in April I said that was not an argument a government which values its reputation should have advanced. Yesterday Mr Justice Combe described it as “dishonourable”.

I think that Foreign Secretary William Hague should give some attention to the quality of the advice that ministers get from Foreign Office lawyers. It is inevitable that a legal viewpoint may sometimes be more complex than the layman thinks but this Kenyan case and its forerunnner, still unresolved, of the expulsion from their Indian Ocean homes of the Chagos islanders to facilitate a US Air Force base, have both shown priority given to scoring legal points at the cost of humanitarian considerations.

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