Historically, the Gurkhas suffered from their exceptional status within the British military: While veterans from other countries, including Ireland and South Africa, were entitled to live in Britain after four years of Army service, Gurkhas were not. No matter how many years or service or medals, they were forced to apply through regular channels requiring them to show “strong ties” to the country besides their military record. (Claimants could cite relatives already in Britain, or the need for urgent medical treatment.) Given Nepal’s colonial history, the distinguished record of the Gurkha units, and the fact that the four-year rule applied to all other veterans, it’s frankly hard to find a non-racist explanation for the policy. Many Gurkha veterans, including winners of all sorts of military honors, currently remain in poverty in Nepal.
Last year, a government review expanded the four-year rule to Gurkhas with a huge caveat: the policy would only apply to those discharged from the military after 1997. The government neglected the thousands of pre-1997 veterans on grounds that the regimental headquarters had been located in Hong Kong, not Britain, until that year.
Facing this, lawyers brought a test case on behalf of 5 veterans and 1 widow demanding inclusion of all Ghurkas under the standard four-year rule. The government expected that “Crown service as such [would] probably not be sufficient,” and even claimed that “Winning the Victoria Cross…[did not] necessarily constitute a strong tie.”
Today, the good guys won. The High Court of London, citing the “moral debt of honour” of the British people, ruled that the four-year standard be expanded to include Gurkhas discharged before 1997. Laywer Martin Howe called it “a victory that restores honour and dignity to deserving soldiers who faithfully served in Her Majesty’s armed forces,” as well as “a victory for common sense, fairness, and the British sense of what is right.” The ruling could affect up to 2,000 Gurkhas.
Good for the veterans, good for the lawyers, and good for the High Court of London.