Nigerians can sue Shell in English courts for damage to communities caused by oil spills in the Niger Delta, the UK’s Supreme Court said on Friday, allowing the communities to bring their claims for compensation and clean-up in UK courts.
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Ogale and Bille communities who have contended that Shell should be held liable for the oil spills under the supervision of its Nigerian subsidiary SPDC.
The UK Supreme Court overturned a split decision of the Court of Appeal and held that the two cases brought by the Ogale and Bille communities are arguable and can proceed in the English courts.
The Supreme Court ruling adds another precedent for oil companies who can be sued in their domicile for oil spills and other harm to communities in other countries.
Last month, The Hague Court of Appeal ordered Shell to compensate Nigerian farmers for two oil spills in the country 13 years ago, in the first lawsuit in which a company has been held liable in the Netherlands for its actions abroad.
Shell hasn’t argued that the oil spills did not happen, but has always said that the spills happened in communities with rampant oil theft and infrastructure sabotage.
“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. Unfortunately, such criminal acts remain the main sources of pollution across the Niger Delta today,” a spokesperson for Shell said, as carried by Sky News.
Persistent issues with theft and sabotage in the Niger Delta could prompt Shell to take a hard look at its operations onshore Nigeria, the supermajor’s chief executive Ben van Beurden said last week.
Daniel Leader, a partner with law firm Leigh Day representing the Nigerian communities, said, commenting on Friday’s ruling:
“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. We hope that now, finally, Shell will act. But it also represents a watershed moment in the accountability of multinational companies.”