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Historic claims

Leigh Day has represented survivors of human  rights violations committed sometimes decades earlier. Such cases pose particular challenges  as a result of the long passage  of time.

Some of our clients have received not only much needed compensation payments, but also long­overdue recognition of the harm suffered. Several cases have resulted  in land­ mark decisions with implications  for other survivors around the world.

Chile: Extradition

The Pinochet case

In 1998 a Spanish judge issued an indictment against General Augusto Pinochet, president of Chile between 1973 and 1990, for human rights violations. His regime had been responsible for the disappearance of more than 3,000 people and the torture of thousands more. Among the victims were Spanish citizens. An international arrest warrant was issued and a request made for his extradition to Spain.

Pinochet, who was in London receiving medical treatment at the time, argued that as a former head of state he was immune from prosecution and ought not to be extradited.

Leigh Day represented the non-governmental organisation Human Rights Watch in giving evidence to the House of Lords to argue against granting Pinochet immunity from prosecution.

In January 1999, the Lords ruled that Pinochet was not entitled to immunity and could be extradited to Spain for crimes of torture that were committed after 1988, which was the year the UK agreed to be bound by the United Nations Convention against Torture. 
Although the final decision reduced the number of criminal charges Pinochet had to answer, the ruling was ground-breaking. It recognised  the principle that national courts could try cases of torture and crimes against humanity, even if they are committed in another territory and by leaders of other states.

Germany: Prisoners of war

In 1999, Leigh Day was asked by the Federation of Poles in Great Britain to work with them to bring a claim against the German Government on behalf of former slave labourers in Nazi Germany. Proceedings were also issued in the USA against German firms. Leigh Day subsequently entered into negotiations with the German and Polish governments and went on to resolve the claims on behalf of former slave labourers in Nazi Germany. 

Japan: Prisoners of war

In the 1990s, Leigh Day represented thousands of former British prisoners of war detained in Japanese camps. In November 2000, the British Government, agreed to make voluntary payments of £10,000 to each surviving Briton held prisoner by the Japanese during the Second  World War. Over 20,000 former prisoners of war and internees received compensation.

Kenya: Torture

Mau Mau

On 23 June 2009, Leigh Day issued five test cases against the British Government for compensation for alleged torture during the Kenya Emergency (1952-1960). The torture cited by the five Kenyan claimants included castration, systematic beatings and rape.
The case was strongly defended by the British Government over a four-year period on the grounds that liability for these events had passed to Kenya and that they occurred so long ago that the claims were time barred.

The High Court in London ruled against the UK Government on both points.

A settlement was finally reached and on 6 June 2013, the then Foreign Secretary, William Hague, in a statement to the House of Commons expressed regret that thousands of Kenyans had been subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment at the hands of the British colonial administration in the 1950s.

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 would finance the construction of a memorial in Kenya to the victims of colonial era torture; this was unveiled in central Nairobi in September 2015.

This landmark case was the first time the British Government had been held to account for colonial era abuses.

In the course of the case, as a result of enquiries raised by the claimants, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office discovered  thousands of secret colonial era files held in its archives. The files also contained secret colonial era documents from 37 other former colonies  including Malaya, Cyprus and Aden. These documents are slowly being released into the public domain, stimulating new research into British colonial rule around the world.

Kenya: Unexploded munitions


In 2001, Leigh Day represented 228 people from the Maasai ethnic group who had been seriously injured or killed by unexploded  bombs  at the British Army’s practice ranges in central Kenya.

These claims were concluded  in 2002 when a settlement was reached with the UK Ministry of Defence. For the first time, the Ministry of Defence accepted limited liability for the deaths and injuries, many of them involving children, and agreed to pay the claimants a total of £4.5 million in compensation. A subsequent agreement in 2004 saw another 1,100 Kenyans being compensated by the MoD.

Nigeria: Oil spills

Bodo community

In January 2015, the High Court in London approved a landmark settlement in a case brought by Leigh Day on behalf of residents of the Bodo fishing community in Ogoniland in the Niger Delta. The claim was against a Nigerian subsidiary of the multinational Shell.

South Africa: Silicosis

Gold miners

Former gold miners and the relatives of deceased ex-miners reached a landmark settlement against Anglo American South Africa Ltd and AngloGold Ashanti Ltd in 2016. The 4,365 claimants sued the mining companies for dust-related lung diseases, silicosis and silico-tuberculosis, which they claim were contracted from working in unsafe conditions in the mines.

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