Shell Cannot Be Sued In UK – British Court Rules, Villages Vow To Appeal, Amnesty International Condemns Ruling

A Shell logo is seen reflected in a car's side mirror at a petrol station in west London, Britain, January 29, 2015. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

SAN FRANCISCO, January 26, (THEWILL) – A High Court in the United Kingdom has ruled that oil major, Royal Dutch Shell, cannot be sued in London courts over Nigerian oil spill allegations.

The ruling, on Thursday, dealt a setback to attempts to hold multinationals liable at home for subsidiaries’ activities as villagers from the Bille and Ogale communities in the Niger-Delta were trying to pursue oil spill allegations against the company’s Nigerian subsidiary Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) in British courts.

The court ruled that the suit did not establish that Shell, the parent company, had legal responsibility for SPDC’s actions.

“The claimants have failed to demonstrate that the first threshold requirement – is there a ‘real issue’ between the claimant and the anchor defendants – is met,” the ruling stated.

Igo Weli, SPDC’s general manager for external relations, said the firm hoped “the strong message sent by the English court today ensures that any future claims by Nigerian communities concerning operations conducted in Nigeria will be heard in the proper local courts.”

Shell also denied responsibility for the spills, which it says were due to sabotage and illegal refining adding that the matter was a uniquely Nigerian issue and should be heard there.

Leigh Day, a law firm representing the villagers, said it would appeal the ruling as the villagers argued that domestic courts in Nigeria were unfit to hear their case.

“It is our view that the judgment failed to consider critical evidence which shows the decisive direction and control Royal Dutch Shell exercises over its Nigerian subsidiary,” said Dan Leader, partner at Leigh Day who also represented Nigeria’s Bodo community in another oil spill claim against Shell that ended in a $55 million settlement in 2015.

Also, King Okpabi, paramount ruler of Ogale community, said he’s confident that the UK court of appeal will rule differently on the matter.

“Our community is disappointed but not discouraged by this judgment and we are confident that, as in the Netherlands, the Court of Appeal will see things differently,” he said.

“Royal Dutch Shell makes billions of dollars of profit each year from Nigerian oil but our communities which host its’ infrastructure have been left environmentally devastated.

“This decision has to be appealed, not just for Ogale but for many other people in the Niger Delta who will be shut out if this decision is allowed to stand.

“Shell is simply being asked to clean up its oil and to compensate the communities it has devastated. That is not an unreasonable request but Shell will not even meet with us.

“Shell underestimate us if they think this judgment will affect our resolve. There is no hope of justice in the Nigerian courts. We still very much believe in the British justice system and so we are going to appeal this decision.”

Meanwhile, Amnesty International, has posited that the judgment could rob the villages of justice and “allow UK multinationals to commit abuses overseas with impunity.”

“The Ogale and Bille communities have been hit by multiple Shell spills, threatening their health and drinking water. The UN found groundwater contamination in Ogale was more than 450 times the legal limit – when Amnesty investigators went back four years later, Shell still hadn’t cleaned up the pollution.

“This ruling could mean that the communities will never receive meaningful compensation, and that the oil spills will be not be properly cleaned up.

“This ruling sets an especially dangerous precedent. If it stands, then the UK Courts have given free rein to multinational companies based in the UK to abuse human rights overseas. Poor communities and developing countries will pay the price.

We hope and expect that the court of appeal will overturn this decision to show that the UK justice system will provide remedy to impoverished communities who suffer serious abuse caused by UK corporations,” said Joe Westby, campaigner on business and human rights at Amnesty International.