Gurkhas lose discrimination claim over pay

By John Aston,Jan Colley
Saturday 22 February 2003 01:00

Former Gurkhas who served with the British Army lost their High Court battle yesterday over a ruling that the Ministry of Defence had unlawfully denied them equal pay and pensions because of their race and nationality.

But, while defeated on the main part of their claim, the Nepalese fighters were given hope that in future more of them would be allowed to have their families living with them.

Mr Justice Sullivan dismissed the application relating to pay and pensions, saying it had been accepted by lawyers representing the soldiers that differential treatment was lawful, given the different costs of living in Britain and Nepal.

The seven involved in yesterday's test cases have all retired in the past couple of years from the Brigade of Gurkhas. They were represented by Cherie Booth QC, who told the judge in London during a two-day hearing this week: "They are treated as different and inferior in relation to other parts of the British Army on terms and conditions of service."

The judge said Ms Booth was now arguing for equality of treatment. But the differences in pay and pensions between Gurkhas and British soldiers were not so great that they could be called "disproportionate or irrational", he said. Gurkha pensions, he said, were twice the top rate of Indian army pensions, with the cost of living increases linked to those in Nepal, where the former soldiers returned to live.

The Ministry of Defence said the ruling vindicated its view that the pay and pension arrangements were reasonable and lawful. It said it would consider "very carefully" the call for a relaxation of the rules on married Gurkhas being accompanied by their families.

Mr Justice Sullivan indicated that unless the accommodation situation was improved, Gurkha soldiers might be able to launch successful claims for unlawful discrimination under human rights laws.

Phil Shiner, for the Gurkhas, said: "The Gurkhas feel very pleased with what they have achieved through this litigation. ... What's most important to us is that we now have non-discrimination as far as family leave is concerned, and we hope in the very near future that Gurkhas will be permitted to be with their families in the same way the British soldier is allowed to be with his family."