The UK Court of Appeal ruled on Wednesday that Nigerian communities cannot pursue Royal Dutch Shell in UK courts over oil spills in the oil-rich Niger Delta, upholding a previous High Court ruling that UK-based multinational companies cannot be tried in England for the actions of their subsidiaries overseas.
In a 2-1 ruling today, the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal filed by law firm Leigh Day on behalf of the Bille and Ogale communities in Nigeria, upholding a January 2017 High Court ruling that courts in England and Wales don’t have jurisdiction to hear lawsuits against Shell’s Nigerian unit, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC).
The Nigerian villagers claim that they have been severely affected by years of oil pollution from pipelines owned by Shell and that both the London-based parent company, Royal Dutch Shell Plc, and its Nigerian subsidiary SPDC are responsible for the pollution.
Following today’s ruling of the Court of Appeal, law firm Leigh Day said that the Nigerian communities would pursue their case to the UK Supreme Court.
“We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will grant permission to appeal and will come to a different view,” Leigh Day partner Daniel Leader told Reuters.
The ruler of the Ogale community, King Okpabi, said in turn that courts in the UK were the communities’ only hope, and that they “cannot get justice” in Nigeria.
“With this ruling the court has struck a blow not only to the Ogale and Bille communities, who live everyday with the devastating consequences of Shell oil spills, but with victims of corporate human rights abuses all over the world. This ruling sets a dangerous precedent and will make it more difficult to hold UK companies to account,” Joe Westby, Amnesty International’s Campaigner on Business and Human Rights, said, commenting on today’s court ruling.
“The idea that powerful multinationals are not responsible for the conduct of their subsidiaries overseas has allowed Shell to evade accountability for a raft of shocking human rights abuses spanning decades. This is a textbook example of the almost insurmountable obstacles to justice faced by people who take on powerful multinationals,” Westby said.
Last November, Amnesty International said that Shell should be investigated for its alleged complicity in abuses of human rights in Nigeria’s military suppressing protests in the oil-rich Niger Delta in the 1990s. The human rights organization called on Nigeria, the Netherlands, and the UK to start investigations into Shell “over its role in a swathe of horrific crimes committed by the Nigerian military government in the oil-producing Ogoniland region in the 1990s.”
By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com
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Tsvetana is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing for news outlets such as iNVEZZ and SeeNews.