UK appeal court rejects N’Delta communities’ bid to sue shell abroad

The Court of Appeal in London has upheld an earlier ruling that two Niger Delta communities cannot have their case against oil giants Shell heard in the UK because the parent company cannot be held liable for the actions of its Nigerian subsidiary.

The court rejected the appeal from law firm Leigh Day on behalf of Bille and Ogale communities in the Niger Delta, and upheld a ruling that English courts do not have jurisdiction over claims against Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC).

The split decision by a panel of three judges upheld a High Court ruling last year that was a setback to attempts to hold British multinationals liable at home for their subsidiaries’ actions abroad.

In 2016, Ogale and Bille communities filed two separate legal claims against both Royal Dutch Shell plc (RDS) and its 100-percent owned Nigerian subsidiary, SPDC in 2016.

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Shell said the court “rightly upheld” the earlier ruling, and said Nigeria’s “well-developed justice system” was the correct place for the claims.

Leigh Day said the two Nigerian communities intended to bring the case to Britain’s 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, said.

Meanwhile, Joe Westby, Amnesty International’s Campaigner on Business and Human Rights, described the UK Court of Appeal’s judgement as a big blow to oil spill victims and corporate accountability.

“With this ruling the court has struck a blow not only to the Ogale and Bille communities, who live every day with the devastating consequences of Shell oil spills, but with victims of corporate human rights abuses all over the world,” Westby said in a statement on Wednesday.

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He lamented that the ruling had set a bad precedent in holding UK companies accountable, saying: “This ruling sets a dangerous precedent and will make it more difficult to hold UK companies to account.

“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.

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“Internal Shell documents show that the company’s headquarters have known full well for decades about the massive oil pollution caused by their operations in Nigeria, and have chosen not to stop it.

“If Shell cannot be held to account for such well-documented abuses, what hope is there of bringing other companies to justice?”

The communities, he noted, would approach the Supreme Court as the last chance to restore their environment.

“The communities will now be taking their fight for justice to the Supreme Court – this could be their last chance to see their environment restored.”

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