The Supreme Court in London has today ruled that a group of thousands of farmers and fishermen in Nigeria can sue Royal Dutch Shell (LON:RDSB) in English courts over years of contamination from oil spills in the Niger Delta.
Judges said the issue of whether the FTSE 100-listed oil supermajor has a common law duty of care for the activities of its Nigerian arm is a “real issue to be tried”.
The case has been made on behalf of more than 50,000 people from two communities from Bille and Ogale in the Niger Delta, who are being represented by law firm Leigh Day.
It is alleged that their lives and health have suffered because numerous oil spills have contaminated their land and waterways, with no adequate cleaning or remediation.
Leigh Day has argued that Shell owed them a duty of care because it either had significant control of, and was responsible for, its subsidiary Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC).
A Shell spokesperson said: “This is a disappointing decision. The spills at issue happened in communities that are heavily impacted by oil theft, illegal oil refining, and the sabotage of pipelines. Regardless of the cause of a spill, SPDC cleans up and remediates.”
The spokesperson said criminal acts are the main sources of pollution for the Niger Delta.
The Supreme Court hearing followed a split decision of the Court of Appeal, after an earlier judgment from the Court of Appeal in 2018 upheld a High Court judgment that the English courts do not have jurisdiction over the claims.
Back in 2017, the judgment of the High Court was that parent company Shell was merely a holding company that did not exercise any control over its “wholly autonomous” Nigerian subsidiary, SPDC.
The Supreme Court ruling comes after in January the Dutch Court of Appeal’s landmark ruling against Shell in litigation brought by four Nigerian farmers and Friends of the Earth against Shell which held the oil giant liable for pollution caused by its Nigerian subsidiary and ordered it to improve its pipeline network.
The Bille and Ogale communities have been fighting for five years to have their cases heard in the English courts as they maintain that there is no prospect of obtaining justice in Nigeria.