They are the giants of the corporate world: Shell, Trafigura and
Anglo-American. Yet they have all rued the day when they first heard from
one little-known firm of British lawyers: Leigh Day. All these companies are
well used to fighting off legal claims, but the cases Leigh Day takes up are
different. Not for them the usual court battles over fees unpaid or patents
violated; Leigh Day are the legal shock troops of the world’s poor and the
They are a law firm with a difference: although most of Leigh Day’s clients
bring cases in Britain, they have also specialised in taking on apparently
hopeless cases around the world. By tracing a link back to London, they have
managed to prove that UK companies have been responsible for some of the
most reprehensible conduct around the globe. By carefully sifting
through the evidence, they have managed to persuade British judges that
their clients from Nigeria to South Africa have been wronged and deserve
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
against it ranging from the former members of Mau Mau in Kenya to men and
women allegedly picked up in Malaysia and Hong Kong to be taken to Libya to
have ‘intelligence’ beaten out of them under torture.
These are some of their cases:
· In June 2003, £10.5m was won for 7,500 South African victims of
asbestosis in a case brought directly against Cape Plc in the UK courts.
· In July 2008, the Ministry of Defence paid compensation to Iraqis
killed and tortured by British troops, including Baha Mousa, a hotel
receptionist who died after being arrested.
· In July 2011, 33 Peruvians received payments from UK-based Monterrico
Metals PLC, who settled the compensation claim, without admitting liability.
In at the beginning
Leigh Day has been in business for nearly three decades. It began with a
strike by lowly paid legal staff in 1985. Martyn Day, whose mother called
him ‘an active member of the awkward squad,’ came forward to lead the staff
action. Soon he found himself out on the street and joined up with another
lawyer, Sarah Leigh, to form a new law firm. So Leigh Day was born.
The firm does not win all of its cases and has certainly seen its share of
setbacks. But it remains among the few to fly the flag for people around the
world whose lives are crushed by the machinations of governments or the
drive for profits by global multinationals.
6 June 2013: Press statement from Leigh Day, lawyers for Kenyan victims of colonial torture in response to William Hague announcement.
In a statement read out today in the House of Commons, the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, expressed regret for the first time that thousands of Kenyans had been subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment at the hands of the British colonial administration during the Kenya Emergency during the 1950’s.
Mr Hague expressed “sincere regret” that these abuses had taken place and he announced that the British Government would pay compensation to Leigh Day’s 5,228 clients, as well as gross costs, to the total value of £19.9 million and finance the construction of a memorial in Kenya to the victims of colonial era torture.
Martyn Day, Senior Partner at law firm Leigh Day, who represents the 5,200 Kenyan victims of colonial torture, said:
“I take my hat off to Mr Hague for having the courage to make today’s statement and to announce this settlement with our clients. Albeit that it comes after a four year legal battle and two High Courts defeats for the Government, it takes courage to publically acknowledge for the first time the terrible nature of Britain’s past in Kenya.
“During the run up to Kenyan independence thousands of Kenyans suffered horrific treatment in detention camps run by the colony. These crimes were committed by British colonial officials and have gone unrecognized and unpunished for decades. They included castration, rape and repeated violence of the worst kind. Although they occurred many years ago, the physical and mental scars remain.
“Many of those who were detained and tortured were never tried and had little or nothing to do with the Mau Mau insurgency.
“The elderly victims of torture now at last have the recognition and justice they have sought for many years. For them this significance of this moment cannot be over emphasised.
“We welcome the statement from William Hague today in the House of Commons, and also the sentiments expressed by the High Commissioner to some of the surviving victims today in Nairobi. These words will hopefully go a long way to lifting the cloud that has hung over our clients for so long.
“It is also fitting that a memorial to those, for whom this acknowledgement comes far too late, will be erected in Nairobi, paid for by the British Government to remember those many thousands of Kenyans who similarly suffered torture and abuse in the colonial era.
“The British Government rightly states that it is the sign of a strength of a democracy that it is willing to learn from its past. This case has been a long, hard struggle for justice; taking four years and two court defeats for the Government before they finally agreed to treat these victims of torture with the dignity they deserve.
“Our clients would like to pay tribute to the British legal system, which impartially and rigorously scrutinised the complex factual and legal issues raised by this historic case. Equally, the role of the expert historians Professor Caroline Elkins, Professor David Anderson and Dr Huw Bennett in this case has been of critical importance.
“Our clients would also like to pay tribute to the Kenyan Human Rights Commission and the Mau Mau War Veterans Association who have provided them with every assistance during this arduous legal battle.
“We would also like to thank the many leading international human rights activists and politicians and who have repeatedly championed this issue over the years including Desmond Tutu, Lakhdar Brahimi, Glenys Kinnock, Sir Nigel Rodley and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez.”
“We hope that this case will act as a reminder that there are human rights abuses so grave that they deserve recognition and redress even if the events in the question happened many years ago. That was true of those who sought redress decades after the Second World War, including the British Prisoners of War of the Japanese (whom we also represented), and now it is equally true for these African victims of British colonial abuse.”
Statement to Parliament on settlement of Mau Mau claims
The Foreign Secretary made a statement to Parliament on the settlement of claims of Kenyan citizens relating to events during the period 1952 – 1963.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on a legal settlement that the Government has reached concerning the claims of Kenyan citizens who lived through the Emergency Period and the Mau Mau insurgency from October 1952 to December 1963.
During the Emergency Period widespread violence was committed by both sides, and most of the victims were Kenyan. Many thousands of Mau Mau members were killed, while the Mau Mau themselves were responsible for the deaths of over 2,000 people including 200 casualties among the British regiments and police.
Emergency regulations were introduced: political organisations were banned; prohibited areas were created and provisions for detention without trial were enacted. The colonial authorities made unprecedented use of capital punishment and sanctioned harsh prison so-called ‘rehabilitation’ regimes. Many of those detained were never tried and the links of many with the Mau Mau were never proven. There was recognition at the time of the brutality of these repressive measures and the shocking level of violence, including an important debate in this House on the infamous events at Hola Camp in 1959.
We recognise that British personnel were called upon to serve in difficult and dangerous circumstances. Many members of the colonial service contributed to establishing the institutions that underpin Kenya today and we acknowledge their contribution.
However I would like to make clear now and for the first time, on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government, that we understand the pain and grievance felt by those who were involved in the events of the Emergency in Kenya. The British Government recognises that Kenyans were subject to torture and other forms of ill treatment at the hands of the colonial administration. The British government sincerely regrets that these abuses took place, and that they marred Kenya’s progress towards independence. Torture and ill treatment are abhorrent violations of human dignity which we unreservedly condemn.
In October 2009 claims were first brought to the High Court by five individuals who were detained during the Emergency period regarding their treatment in detention.
In 2011 the High Court rejected the claimants’ argument that the liabilities of the colonial administration transferred to the British Government on independence, but allowed the claims to proceed on the basis of other arguments.
In 2012 a further hearing took place to determine whether the cases should be allowed to proceed. The High Court ruled that three of the five cases could do so. The Court of Appeal was due to hear our appeal against that decision last month.
However, I can announce today that the Government has now reached an agreement with Leigh Day, the solicitors acting on behalf of the Claimants, in full and final settlement of their clients’ claims.
The agreement includes payment of a settlement sum in respect of 5,228 claimants, as well as a gross costs sum, to the total value of £19.9 million. The Government will also support the construction of a memorial in Nairobi to the victims of torture and ill-treatment during the colonial era. The memorial will stand alongside others that are already being established in Kenya as the country continues to heal the wounds of the past. And the British High Commissioner in Nairobi is also today making a public statement to members of the Mau Mau War Veterans Association in Kenya, explaining the settlement and expressing our regret for the events of the Emergency Period.
Mr Speaker this settlement provides recognition of the suffering and injustice that took place in Kenya. The Government of Kenya, the Kenya Human Rights Commission and the Mau Mau War Veterans Association have long been in favour of a settlement, and it is my hope that the agreement now reached will receive wide support, will help draw a line under these events, and will support reconciliation.
We continue to deny liability on behalf of the Government and British taxpayers today for the actions of the colonial administration in respect of the claims, and indeed the courts have made no finding of liability against the Government in this case. We do not believe that claims relating to events that occurred overseas outside direct British jurisdiction more than fifty years ago can be resolved satisfactorily through the courts without the testimony of key witnesses that is no longer available. It is therefore right that the Government has defended the case to this point since 2009.
It is of course right that those who feel they have a case are free to bring it to the courts. However we will also continue to exercise our own right to defend claims brought against the Government. And we do not believe that this settlement establishes a precedent in relation to any other former British colonial administration.
The settlement I am announcing today is part of a process of reconciliation. In December this year, Kenya will mark its 50th anniversary of independence and the country’s future belongs to a post independence generation. We do not want our current and future relations with Kenya to be overshadowed by the past. Today we are bound together by commercial, security and personal links that benefit both our countries. We are working together closely to build a more stable region. Bilateral trade between the UK and Kenya amounts to £1 billion each year, and around 200,000 Britons visit Kenya annually.
Although we should never forget history and indeed must always seek to learn from it, we should also look to the future, strengthening a relationship that will promote the security and prosperity of both our nations. I trust that this settlement will support that process. The ability to recognise error in the past but also to build the strongest possible foundation for cooperation and friendship in the future are both hallmarks of our democracy.