England’s Supreme Court will hear an appeal by Nigerian farming and fishing representatives who want to pursue claims against Royal Dutch Shell over oil spills in the Niger delta, according to lawyers representing the groups.
The decision to hear the appeal reopens the possibility of multinationals being held liable for their subsidiaries overseas. In February 2018 a London court ruled that the Nigerian claim could not be pursued in England.
The hearing will appeal against the Court of Appeal ruling upholding a High Court decision that English courts did not have jurisdiction in the case because Shell was a holding company with no control over its “wholly autonomous” Nigerian subsidiary.
“The decision will allow the two communities from Bille and Ogale in the Niger delta to appeal to the UK’s highest court, having suffered from decades of pollution from Shell’s pipelines,” said Leigh Day, the London-based legal firm representing the communities.
The rural 40,000-strong Ogale community is based in Ogoniland in the delta.
Daniel Leader of Leigh Day said: “The era of corporate impunity is drawing to a close.
“It is no longer acceptable for companies to make billions out of developing world resources whilst causing devastating damage to the environment and communities.”
The top court for England and Wales will decide whether it has jurisdiction over claims against Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), which is jointly run with the Nigerian authorities.
“We maintain that claims by Nigerian communities against a Nigerian company about events in Nigeria, should be heard in Nigeria and not the UK,” said SPDC.
SPDC said the spills were largely caused by oil theft, sabotage and illegal refining.
Shell has reportedly admitted that the community has been impacted by at least 40 oil spills from the company since 1989, including 23 spills in the past four years. Shell’s pipelines and other infrastructure in Ogale is ageing, making the area vulnerable to oil spills which contaminate land, swamps, groundwater and waterways.
The communities say there are no Nigerian legal avenues available.
“The English courts are our only hope because we cannot get justice in Nigeria,” said King Okpabi, who rules the Ogale. “So let this be a landmark case. I will not run away from my responsibility to defend the people of Ogale against one of the largest corporations of the world which treats us with contempt.”
The Supreme Court in London ruled in April that around 2,000 Zambian villagers had the right to sue mining company Konkola Copper Mines and India-listed Vedanta Resources, its parent company, setting an uncomfortable legal precedent for Shell.
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