Ruling on BATUK deferred after 'file pages go missing'

British Army Training Unit Kenya ( BATUK ) plaque. BATUK is a training support unit based in Nanyuki, Laikipia County. [Courtesy]

A ruling on whether a Kenyan court can hear cases of offences committed by British Army Training Unit in Kenya (Batuk) staff has been postponed for the fourth time after several pages of the file 'went missing'.

The Environment and Lands Court in Nanyuki yesterday announced it would not deliver the much-awaited ruling on the preliminary application in the case between Batuk and residents of Loldaiga after it emerged that six pages of parties' submission could not be traced in the file.

Justice Antonina Kossy Bor asked the parties to file the documents afresh and deferred the ruling to March 10.

Some 1,496 residents of Lolldaiga community in Laikipia have sued Batuk for starting a fire that ravaged more than 10,000 acres in the conservancy.

Other than environmental damage, the surrounding community claims the disaster triggered a human-wildlife crisis forcing animals searching for water and pastures to invade their farms.

In the petition, the Lolldaiga community, which has also sued the African Centre for Corrective and Preventive Action, a non-governmental organisation, is seeking compensation under the Polluter-Paye principle.

The principle provides that those who produce pollution should bear the costs of managing it to prevent damage to human health or the environment.

The petitioners claim that the fire affected over 1,000 families living around the Lolldaiga conservancy.

The fire emitted smoke that contained dangerous chemicals that have caused adverse health effects like serious eye-sight problems and miscarriages in both human beings and livestock.

Wildfire is seen in Lolldaiga Hills, March 26, 2021. [Reuters]

Some of the community members who were in close proximity to the ranch have since been forced to abandon their homes due to the howling hot winds.

Batuk has argued it has sovereign immunity from local prosecution.

In the suit, Lolldaiga Hills Limited is listed as the first respondent while the commanding officer of Batuk in Nanyuki and Batuk are the second and third respondents.

The Kenya Wildlife Service and Kenya Forest Service are also enjoined in the case as interested parties.

Should the court rule in favour of the petitioners, this could see the British military officers face trial before Kenyan courts for the alleged offences.

Residents of Lolldaiga community have sued Batuk for starting a fire that ravaged more than 10,000 acres. [Reuters]

Batuk, in its defence, has since told court that it cannot submit to the jurisdiction of a Kenyan court because the training arose from a Defence Co-operation Agreement (DCA) signed by both the United Kingdom and Kenya.

It has requested the court to instead direct the suit to the Intergovernmental Liaison Committee which is tasked with handling civil claims in the DCA.