A supreme court in the United Kingdom has ruled that the people of the Niger Delta region of Nigeria can make pollution claims against Anglo-Dutch energy giant, Royal Dutch Shell, in English courts.
The ruling overturned a 2017 decision against the Ogale and Bille communities, who brought legal claims for clean-up and compensation, following decades of repeated spills in the oil-rich region.
The claimants have argued for five years that their case against Shell and its Nigerian subsidiary, the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC), should be heard in London because they could not expect justice in a Nigerian court.
The UK decision comes two weeks after a court in the Netherlands ordered Shell to compensate Nigerian farmers for oil spills on land in two villages in the Niger Delta after 13 years of legal battles.
Shell Nigeria must compensate the farmers for the losses they suffered due to the oil spills, in the two villages of Goi and Oruma in 2004 and 2005. The court also added that Shell hadn’t done enough to clean up the spills.
Also, six years ago, Shell agreed to pay out £55 million ($83.4 million) to the Bodo community in Nigeria in compensation for two oil spills, which was the largest ever out-of-court settlement relating to Nigerian oil spills.
In their judgment, five judges at Britain’s highest court said the previous decision by the lower court of appeal was a “material error of law” and focused too narrowly on the relationship between Shell and its Nigerian subsidiary.
Shell had argued it could not be held legally responsible for the pollution in the region in southern Nigeria and so the cases should not be heard in England.
Speaking on this, Mr Daniel Leader, from London law firm, Leigh Day, which represents the claimants said, “This Supreme Court judgment gives real hope to the people of Ogale and Bille who have been asking Shell to clean up their oil for years.”
He said he hoped the decision would lead to action from Shell and called the ruling a “watershed moment” to bring multinational companies to account.
“Increasingly impoverished communities are seeking to hold powerful corporate actors to account and this judgment will significantly increase their ability to do so,” he added.
Reacting, Shell said it was disappointed with the ruling. The energy giant has blamed sabotage for oil spills and says crude oil spills caused by theft surged by 41 per cent in 2019.
“Regardless of the cause of a spill, SPDC cleans up and remediates. It also works hard to prevent these sabotage spills, by using technology, increasing surveillance and by promoting alternative livelihoods for those who might damage pipes and equipment,” Shell said in a statement.