A UK high court has ruled that a legal challenge to Shell and its Nigerian subsidiary regarding oil pollution in Nigeria and its effect on Nigerians and their environment cannot be heard in English courts. Campaigners had hoped the case would set an important precedent for bringing cases against UK corporations and their actions overseas. The lawyers said they would appeal the ruling, made by Justice Fraser on Thursday. Fraser gave permission to appeal the case.
Leigh Day, the law firm representing the Nigerian claimants, argued that Royal Dutch Shell is responsible for the actions of its Nigerian subsidiary, meaning the case should be heard in a UK court.
Justice Fraser said in his ruling:
“There is simply no connection whatsoever between this jurisdiction and the claims brought by the claimants, who are Nigerian citizens, for breaches of statutory duty and/or in common law for acts and omissions in Nigeria, by a Nigeria company.”
In the past, Shell has denied its liability on these issues, arguing that such challenges entail “fundamentally Nigerian issues,” that should be heard in a Nigerian court. In 2015, Shell avoided another case brought by Leigh Day, paying a £55m settlement to communities impacted by two oil spills the company had caused.
The current Leigh Day case addresses two claims against Shell by Nigerian communities. One claim was brought by 2,000 fisherman from the Bille Kingdom. The other claim was by 40,000 Nigerians from the Ogale community in the Niger Delta.
The Ogale leader, King Okpabi, said:
“Our community is disappointed but not discouraged by this judgment and we are confident that, as in the Netherlands, the court of appeal will see things differently. Royal Dutch Shell makes billions of dollars of profit each year from Nigerian oil, but our communities which host its infrastructure have been left environmentally devastated.”
The spokesman for the Bille Council of Chiefs, Chief Temebo, said there was little hope of finding justice in Nigerian courts.
“If the claim does not continue in the English courts, we have no hope that the environment will ever be cleaned up and the fish will ever return to our waters. Shell will do nothing unless they are ordered to by the English courts,” he said.
Justice Fraser, however, said in his ruling:
“The evidence before the court is that access to justice in Nigeria would not be denied to the claimants if these proceedings were not to continue in London.”
Shell welcomed the dismissing of the case, with a spokesman saying that “The court rightly decided these claims should be dealt with by the Nigerian courts and confirmed longstanding principles of corporate law, which are critically important for multinational companies headquartered in the UK.”