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Overseas citizens should expect lower compensation, London court hears

By August Graham, PA City Reporter

Citizens of British overseas territories should not expect the same legal compensation as their counterparts in the UK, a London court has heard.

Lawyers acting on behalf of the government of St Helena have argued that its inhabitants, who are British citizens, should be given considerably less than what goes to their compatriots in the UK.

At the Committee of the Privy Council in London, they asked justices to pass the issue back down to local courts, with guidance on what level of compensation is correct. The Government had previously lost a case at the St Helena Court of Appeal.

The case revolves around two women who were sterilised against their will by the island's head doctor. The island government has appealed against the compensation they were paid, which is on par with what they could have expected in England and Wales.

In November 2012 a doctor at the government-run hospital on St Helena negligently performed a Caesarean section on a woman known as AB in court documents. During the process he sterilised her without her consent or knowledge. AB's baby died two days later.

Five months later another woman, NK, was also sterilised without knowledge or consent by the same doctor during a Caesarean.

Both women and AB's partner sued the government for damages, winning a combined £265,000 for pain, suffering and loss of amenity.

Their cases were heard by the St Helena Supreme Court in 2017 by chief justice Charles Ekins.

The case, which could set precedent, has seen the St Helena government maintain that its citizens should not be paid the same compensation as those in the UK, where wages are higher.

Median income on St Helena at the end of 2012 was £6,280 per year, the government's lawyers said. In the UK at the time, the figure was £26,500.

Lower courts found that St Helenian salaries are catching up with those in the UK, but the government maintained that with the current rate of growth, an average of £80 a year between 2012 and 2016, it could take up to 1,000 years for the gap to be eliminated.

The lawyers pointed towards Northern Ireland, where damages are higher, to say that British citizens cannot expect the same treatment everywhere. They added that if something happens abroad, it is heard under that country's laws.

"If one has a road accident in India, the level of compensation is, to our way of thinking, shockingly low. But there is no argument that it should be higher because I happen to be visiting from England," said Caroline Harrison QC, acting for the St Helena government.

Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, acting on behalf of the St Helena Equality and Human Rights Commission, said the income figures provided by Ms Harrison's team did not take into account international workers, often from the UK, who fill high-paying roles in the government and are paid many times the St Helenian average.

"These are individuals who are living and working on St Helena, and because their pay is on international pay scales, equivalent to the UK, they are being carved out," she said.

She also brought up higher costs of living on St Helena, where internet access could cost nearly £200 a month for a slow and limited connection.

Marc Willems QC, representing the women, said St Helenians are proud of their British citizenship, which was won in 2002 after a long battle, and that lower compensation would give the impression of them being discriminated against.