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Shivers over Mau Mau UK payout

COMMENTARY
By -JOSEPH NGUGI | August 11th 2013

By JOSEPH NGUGI

The firm of lawyers that represented the former Mau Mau fighters against the British government over claims of horrendous torture has finally paid off the money awarded to the claimants.

A statement sent to this writer by Martyn Day & Leigh Day solicitors said: “We have paid out the compensation due to the vast majority of the 5,200 claimants. There remain a few where there are issues to be resolved before payment is made.”

Money still to be disbursed belongs to the claimants, who have since died or whose details of accounts needed to be verified. In cases of death of the claimants, the law firm will wait for the possible beneficiaries to be identified and letters of administration of the deceased’s estate issued to them before any payment was made. This is to ensure cash only goes to the intended be benefactors.

The payment will bring to close the landmark case filed in court in 2009 to seek compensation for freedom fighters, who were subjected to horrendous treatment by the then colonial administration.

The compensation announced for Kenyans tortured during Britain’s suppression of the Mau Mau rebellion in the 1950s is the largest publicly-disclosed pay-outs the firm has won for its clients.

Britain agreed on a Sh1.8 billion compensation settlement and individuals will receive £2,600 (Sh340,000) each. The lawyers, however, took £6 million of that settlement in costs, after four years of enormously complicated legal battles.

This little known firm of lawyers came into limelight in 2002, when it won £4.5 million from the UK’s Ministry of Defence for 228 Kenyans killed or injured by munitions left behind by British forces after training exercises.  This was followed in 2003 by a second action against the MOD on behalf of hundreds of Kenyan Samburu women who claimed to have been raped British Army soldiers between 1972 and 2002. The claims, however, did not proceed due to criminal investigations by the Kenyan Police, which were never concluded.

In addition to the firm’s legal work in Kenya, Leigh Day has been partnered with the HOME Trust, an educational charity working in a remote area of northern Kenya, since 2001. Thanks to the firm’s support there are now over 100 children receiving full educational sponsorship.

The law firm, whose litigation work is widely described as a near David and Goliath undertaking has made its name from taking on billionaires rich international corporations linked to Britain that have businesses and operations around the world, especially in Africa, Asia, South America as well as in the Pacific.  By tracing a link back to London, these lawyers have managed to prove that the UK companies have been responsible for some of the most reprehensible conduct around the globe and have managed to persuade Her Majesty’s courts that their clients from Kenya to Colombia have been wronged and deserve justice.

This litigation success has sent shivers across multinational companies with operations across the third world, and who for decades thought they were untouchables because of their immense wealth as well as corrupt judicial systems in those countries.

By suing in Britain where the courts are known to be aggressively independent and jealously just, many international companies in the third world will have to rethink the way they do business abroad.  International health and safety standards, which were often breached, will now have to be strictly observed as if the companies were conducting their business in the European Union environment. Currently, the firm of lawyers is also pursuing claims against African Barrick Gold (ABG) and North Mara Gold Mine Limited (NMGML) in which the companies are alleged to be liable for the deaths and injuries of local villagers in the neighbouring Tanzania. The claim includes complicity in the killing of at least six villagers by police at North Mara mine.

The North Mara mine sits in the midst of seven villages in northern Tanzania. Desperately impoverished villagers often attempt to gather rocks at the mine in the hope of finding tiny amounts of gold but were often subjected to unparalleled police brutality, which resulted to deaths.

But it is not just corporations that quake at the sight of a Leigh Day writ. The British government has found to its cost that the firm can bring cases that attracted huge pay-outs, like in the two cases of Kenyans. Due to its successive litigations against ill behaviour of the colonial and past British governments, the Martyn Day is now looking in the West Indies states were the leaders of more than a dozen countries is seeking compensation from three European nations over the legacy of the Atlantic slave trade.

Caribbean Community and Common Market (Caricom) plans to challenge  Britain, France and the Netherlands for the lingering effect of slavery, hundreds of years after the trade in human beings was abolished.  The claim is informed by the fact that the legacy of slavery included poverty and the lack of development that characterizes most of the region. But Caricom are only interested in seeking a settlement for the impact of slavery on their communities today and not on the historic position of the individual slaves.


 

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