The UK government on 23.01.2019 announced it had reached an out-of-court settlement to the tune of £1m over claims by 33 EOKA veterans who sued the UK government for torture whilst in detention during the 1955-1959 insurgency.
Mr. Kevin Conroy of the British law firm K. J. Conroy & Co Solicitors Ltd as the lead solicitor of the 33 claimants in the UK, started the case together with N. Pirilides & Associates LLC and a number of barristers and lawyers in Cyprus who joined along the way, all of whom united took on the might of the UK government and achieved a very creditable result for the claimants.
Content - Significance
Although the UK government mentioned that the £1m (€1.1m) settlement did not constitute any admission of liability and set no precedent in respect of any potential future claims against the UK government, it nonetheless stressed that this settlement is greatly significant as it constitutes an important milestone in the two countries’ bilateral relationship. Although this settlement is seen by the UK government as a means of turning a page in its relations with Cyprus, to the extent that the chapter of the anti-colonial struggle is concerned and despite the UK government’s lack of liability admission, we believe that in reaching this settlement, the UK government recognises, albeit indirectly, that the atrocities that several Cypriots claim to have suffered back then, actually took place as it is indeed extremely hard to believe that anybody would pay €1 million plus €3 million fees for no real reason!
The British government further said that it had settled the case in order to draw a line under this litigation, avoid the further escalation of costs and to focus firmly on the future in its relations with Cyprus, adding that the settlement “reaffirms its highest respect for the memory and sacrifice of British and Cypriot service personnel and employees of the Crown who gave their lives, who lost family members or loved ones, or whose lives suffered permanent disruption” as a result of the insurgency. The government decision was later presented to the British parliament in a formal written statement by Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Sir Alan Duncan. The British government’s statement stressed the importance of learning from the past, but also looking to the future and to building a modern, forward-looking relationship between the UK and Cyprus, built on shared values of mutual respect and full equality as well as a broad network of security, personal, business, administrative, cultural and educational ties.
The case, which as well-described by Mr. K. Conroy, was a “David and Goliath action”, concerned claims filed against the UK government in July 2015 by 35 individuals (since reduced to 33) after Foreign Office documents released in July 2012 described claims of torture and abuse during the 1955-1959 EOKA insurgency. It is noted that during the course of the litigation, 4 of the original claimants died and a further 4 lost mental capacity.
The claimants’ British lawyers, highlighting the importance and success of the settlement stated that the remaining claimants are all very elderly and, had the dispute continued for much longer, very few of them would have been able to enjoy their settlement payments.
The group of elderly EOKA veterans had supported having been abused and tortured by British soldiers and security services whilst held in custody when they were juveniles. They were considered terrorists by the British government for their involvement with EOKA. In the case against the UK government, the claimants said they had eyewitnesses, declassified documents, newspaper reports and medical evidence.
Influence from Kenya’s claims
The claimants were encouraged to bring their case after former insurgents in Kenya against colonial rule reached an out-of-court settlement with the British authorities.
In 2013 the British government admitted that thousands were tortured during Kenya’s Mau Mau insurgency between 1952 and 1963 and expressed regret, but denied liability and settled out of court for a reported €24 million to more than 5,000 victims.
It should be noted that the settlement of EOKA veterans’ with the UK government is a better one, money-wise, given that the compensation of the range of 1 million is awarded to 33 claimants, as opposed to the award of €24 million for 5,000 victims.
We believe this to be an excellent result for the claimants which brings this long running litigation to an end and above all restores fairness since, as our British colleagues Messrs. K. J. Conroy & Co Solicitors Ltd correctly stated it “goes some way to putting right a historic wrong”. It is said that the claim will now not be tried and the question of what really happened in Cyprus during the insurgency and who was responsible for it “will be left to the judgement of historians rather than that of a judge”.
The entire team of British and Cypriot lawyers, as well as other professionals who worked on this case, are content and happy about the successful outcome of the long running negotiations, considering that long hours were spent on this case, including, inter alia, research at the National Archives and other document repositories including the archives of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva and the Cyprus State Archives, meetings and personal interviews with the claimants and their relatives, review and drafting of pleadings, translations, etc.
The EOKA fighters’ associations declared feeling justified by the settlement, as it constitutes proof that the UK government, by agreeing to pay the claimants, has acknowledged that torture did take place.
“The settlement amount”, they said, “did not reflect reality and cannot cover the pain, hardship, damage, losses and handicaps of the tortured fighters” but their aim was not the money.
“We are pleased that through this act they recognise that during our anti-colonial struggle they did use torture,” the group said.
The claimants expressed their gratitude to both the UK as well as the Cypriot lawyers who were involved on this case and who worked to achieve this tremendous result of historic importance.