Thousands of Indian doctors here are celebrating the surprise win of their legal challenge to the British government to force it to treat them on a par with European medics.

The British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO), which was the lead appellant in the case, said it was exuberant that the London High Court had upheld its appeal that the British health ministry had unlawfully decreed non-European Union doctors be discriminated against when it comes to jobs.

Dr Raman Lakshman, BAPIO policy vice-chair, said, "We are delighted. This is a truly happy Diwali for thousands of doctors who have been through 18 months of unimaginable stress. Doctors on the HSMP came to the UK on the understanding they are required here and will be treated fairly. This judgment means these International Medical Graduates can expect to be treated on merit for the 2008 recruitment process and onwards."

BAPIO president Dr Ramesh Mehta said his organisation, which claims a 6,000-strong membership and says it represents a further 25,000 Indian doctors in the UK, illustrated that "BAPIO's role (was) one of advocacy for international medical graduates and ethnic minority doctors".

The appeal was heard by three Lord Justices, Sedley, Maurice Kay and Rimer, all of whom were unanimous in agreeing that the guidance issued by the Department of Health on treatment of non-European doctors on the Highly-Skilled Migrant Programmed was not lawful.

BAPIO, which late on Friday, was celebrating a well-deserved victory after a gruelling and expensive, 150,000 case, said the judgment meant that Indians and other International Medical Graduates can henceforth expect to be treated on merit as they compete for jobs with UK and EU nationals for postgraduate medical jobs. BAPIO said that the judgment was "historic" and will have a significant impact on the careers of thousands of International Medical Graduates".

The favourable judgment came after the Indians' launched a March 1 appeal against an unfavourable High Court decision that failed to overturn the British government's punitive new immigration and work rules for Indian doctors.

It reverses BAPIO's sense of hopelessness after it lost its earlier case on February 9, despite arguing with great force that it was wrong for Britain to suddenly without consultation or warning decree that work permit-free visas would no longer be issued to non-European Union doctors.