Monday, 27 April 2009

An absolutely fabulous campaign

They used to say that the British were prepared to defend Hong Kong to the very last Gurkha but the colony finally ended with a whimper not the bang from a Gurkha's gun. With the retreat from the Far East the Gurkhas then serving were allowed entry to Britain but those who served the British Crown before then were confined to Nepal to fend for themselves. Britain might be overrun with Pakistanis but there was no place for most Gurkhas in the land they fought for; which annoyed at least some representatives of the Raj, the actress Joanna Lumley among them. Ms Lumley was born in Srinagar, Kashmir, India, the daughter of Major James Rutherford Lumley of the 6th Gurkha Rifles, and she took up the Gurkha cause with a passion. 
In 2008 the Gurkha Justice Campaign seemed to have a victory in when the High Court ruled in favour of six claimants arguing against the British policy that Gurkhas who retired before mid-1997, the date that the brigade moved its base from Hong Kong to the UK, did not have strong enough ties to the UK to be allowed to stay. Justice Blake ruled that the British government immigration policy in this matter was unlawful. Justice Blake quoted from the military covenant that soldiers are expected to make personal sacrifices and put the needs of the nation above their own and in return should always expect fair treatment and be valued and respected. He said rewarding long and distinguished service by the grant of residence in the country for which the service was performed would be a vindication and an enhancement of this covenant.
In light of the court's ruling, the ABC at the time, the UK's home secretary Jacqui Smith said the government would revise and publish new guidance. That guidance was finally issued last week with the new Home Office rules saying a Gurkha will be allowed in if he had 20 years' service. That seemed to pay scant regard to Justice Blake's finding because Gurkhas could only serve for a maximum of 15 years unless they became an officer. The only alternative was of entering is to have a gallantry medal, family ties in Britain, have lived in Britain for three years or have an illness due to military service.
A defiant Ms Lumley described the new rules as "shocking" and vowed to help launch a new court battle for justice after the Government was accused of tearing up a legal ruling that they should be allowed to settle in Britain. The angry Joanna said: "It is far worse than we expected and has made me ashamed of our administration. It is absolutely shocking."

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