Oil Pollution: UK Supreme Court Upholds Niger Delta Communities’ Case Against Shell Company

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The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom Parliament Square in London has upheld the appeal of Okpabi and others, representatives of the Niger Delta communities in Nigeria, against the Royal Dutch Shell PLC over oil pollution and spillage in the region.

The court stated that the appeal was allowed, which means that the case was legal and could be resolved by a competent High Court.



In the court papers obtained by SaharaReporters, the Supreme Court upheld that the appeal of the communities stands. The judgment was delivered by Lord Hodge as the Deputy President, and other justices; Lady Black, Lord Briggs, Lord Kitchin and Lord Hamblen. 

It will be recalled that on January 26, 2017, a UK High Court held that although the court had jurisdiction to try the claims against Shell, the claims did not have a real prospect of success.

As a consequence, the court had given orders, setting aside service of the claim forms on Shell company and striking out the appellants’ statements of case insofar as they related to Royal Dutch Shell, the parent company of Shell.  

However, an appeal was made to the Supreme Court, and it ruled that the appeal of the communities should stand.

The court judgment papers read, “The appeal concerns two sets of proceedings, the Ogale proceedings and the Bille proceedings. In both proceedings, it is alleged that numerous oil spills have occurred from oil pipelines and associated infrastructure operated in the vicinity of the appellants’ communities in Nigeria, causing widespread environmental damage including serious water and ground contamination.

“The appellants’ case is that the oil spills were caused by the negligence of a Nigerian registered company named The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd, the second respondent in these proceedings, which operates the pipeline and infrastructure under a joint venture.

“SPDC is a subsidiary of the first respondent, Royal Dutch Shell Plc, a UK domiciled company and the parent company of the multinational Shell group. The appellants contend that that RDS owed them a common law duty of care because it exercised significant control over material aspects of SPDC’s operations and/or assumed responsibility for SPDC’s operations, which allegedly failed to protect the appellants against the risk of foreseeable harm arising from SPDC’s operations.  

“The appellants’ application for permission to appeal was deferred by the Supreme Court until after its judgment in Vedanta. Following that judgment, permission was granted. This appeal raises two principal issues: (i) whether the Court of Appeal materially erred in law; and (ii) if so, whether the majority was wrong to decide that there was no real issue to be tried.

“The judgment is that the Supreme Court allows the appeal.”

The Supreme Court said the “Court of Appeal materially erred in law in that it was drawn into conducting a mini-trial which led it to the adoption of an inappropriate approach to the contested factual issues and to the documentary evidence.”

“The conclusion is that the appeal is allowed. If the respondents intend to pursue the other challenges to jurisdiction which were not resolved by the High Court judge, the matter will have to be remitted to the High Court,” the court ruled.



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