British Gurkhas are taking their battle for equal pension rights to the European Court of Human Rights, it was announced today. After winning a battle championed by actress Joanna Lumley for equal rights of UK residence, the veteran Nepalese members of the British Army are now challenging the Ministry of Defence over their pension arrangements.
The British Gurkhas Welfare Society (BGWS) said it was turning to the Strasbourg court after being rebuffed in a test case in the UK.
The legal battle is over the fact that Gurkhas who retired before 1997, despite having won the right to settle in the UK after Ms Lumley's campaign, still get smaller pensions than their British and Commonwealth former comrades.
A case launched by the BGWS ended with the Court of Appeal backing the Ministry of Defence, and the Supreme Court last December refused the Gurkhas permission to appeal further.
The next step is a legal challenge in Strasbourg for allegedly breaching the Gurkhas' human rights. BGWS chairman Tikendra Dal Dewan, a retired Army major, said today: "We have taken this step reluctantly but with the knowledge that not pursuing legal options further would effectively put a nail in the coffins of many veterans.
"It is desperately sad that, after many years of committed and courageous service, these old soldiers cannot find justice within the UK's borders - and it should be to the Government's shame that the continuing poverty they face goes uncorrected."The organisation says many elderly veterans, both in the UK and Nepal and particularly those who retired before 1997, are facing "desperate poverty".
Ms Lumley became the Gurkas' champion when she backed a campaign for the right to settle in Britain - something denied to those who served in the British Army before 1997. In May 2009 the then Labour government announced that all Gurkha veterans who had served four years or more in the British Army before 1997 would be allowed to settle in Britain. The decision, after a Liberal Democrat Commons motion backing the move, was supported by Opposition parties and Labour rebels. But the Gurkhas will have to wait possibly years for a hearing and verdict in their human rights pensions case: the Strasbourg judges are not expected to consider their claim until late 2012 at the earliest, with a final verdict in 2013 or 2014.