Two Gurkha war veterans stood ramrod-straight at attention outside the High Court yesterday, holding the Union flag and a portrait of the Queen, which, they said, symbolised their enduring loyalty towards Britain.
Later, inside the court, their barrister accused ministers of a dishonourable failure to reciprocate this loyalty by refusing to let the Nepalese infantrymen settle in the country for which they had risked their lives in battle.
Edward Fitzgerald, QC, was representing five former Gurkha soldiers who want the court to overturn a ban which bars them from remaining here. Gurkhas who retired from the Army after the Royal Gurkha Rifles moved its main base from Hong Kong to the UK in 1997 have automatic permission to stay, but those who left earlier must apply and can be refused and deported.
The outcome of the case could affect more than 2,000 retired Gurkhas who have been denied the right to settle in Britain. Yesterday, their supporters held a "celebration" of Gurkha service, with banners flying and bagpipes playing outside the court.
Among them was the actress Joanna Lumley, who knelt before the wheelchair-bound Lachhiman Gurung, 91, and Tul Bahadur Pun, 86 – both of whom received the Victoria Cross for bravery – to wish them luck. "Like so many others I want to see justice done," Lumley said. "I am so happy to be able to lend my support to your cause."
Gurkha recruits come from the foothills of the Nepalese Himalayas and have fought with the Indian and British armies since the early 1800s. They have a reputation for ruggedness and loyalty that has endeared them to the British Army ever since.
A key plank of the Government's case is that Gurkhas who have asked to settle in Britain "lack strong ties with the UK". Among those deemed not to have any strong ties, Mr Fitzgerald told the judge, Mr Justice Blake, is L/Cpl Gyanendra Rai, who was wounded in the Falklands War. He was based in Britain for two years during his 13 years with the 7th Gurkha Rifles.
Another infantryman, Deo Prakash Limbu, served with distinction in the Falklands, Hong Kong and Belize but was refused entry by an immigration officer who decided the length and value of his service were not "factors which should lead me to exercise discretion in your favour".
Similarly, L/Cpl Birendra Shrestha, who fought in the first Gulf War, was refused permission to stay because he had apparently "not demonstrated strong ties with the UK".
Mr Fitzgerald said: "We submit that the Gurkhas, past and present, all alike have strong ties to this country. However distant their country of origin, whatever the location of their headquarters at a particular moment in history, however remote the battlefields on which they fought and risked their lives and shed their blood, all the Gurkha soldiers were fighting for this country.
"Against that background, the continuing exclusion of Gurkha soldiers discharged before 1997 from the Armed Forces Concession was, and is, indefensible." The concession grants non-UK nationals who have served for four years in the armed forces the right to settle in Britain.
Several British ex-servicemen went to show solidarity with the Gurkhas. Ronnie Turner, 54, an artillery gunner in the Falklands, said: "I can't recall anyone checking whether the Gurkhas had ties to this country when they fought beside us. I am embarrassed we are putting these fine men through all this now."
Mr Fitzgerald is also representing Gita Mukhiya, the widow of a Gurkha. He says her case is special because she cannot qualify under the Armed Forces Concession. The hearing continues.Reuse content