Nigeria spill case against Shell to be heard in English courts

Case revolves around 40,000 people affected by oil pollution in the Niger Delta

The Supreme Court has ruled a case brought on behalf of 40,000 citizens in the Niger Delta against Shell for alleged environmental degradation in the area can be heard in English courts.

The ruling overturned a prior decision of the Court of Appeal against two Nigerian communities who brought legal claims and compensation for oil pollution in the Niger Delta.

The claims against Shell and its subsidiary, the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC), were brought in 2016.

The claimants have argued oil pollution has contaminated the local environment in a way that water sources cannot be used for drinking, agriculture, or washing.

The decision comes two weeks after a court in the Netherlands ordered Shell to compensate Nigerian farmers for oil spills. 

Kingsley Napley Partner Sophie Kemp said: “This is a landmark decision and another major step forward for those seeking accountability and access to justice for corporate human rights abuses both in the UK and internationally.”

Carlos Lopez, Senior Legal Advisor at the International Commission of Jurists, noted:  “The emphasis of the Supreme Court on the relevance of evidence from internal company documents is of utmost importance for the proper assessment of whether the parent company intervened, advised or controlled the relevant activities of its subsidiary that caused harm, including notably human rights abuses and environmental destruction.”

A Shell spokesperson said: “This is a disappointing decision. The spills at issue happened in communities that are heavily impacted by oil theft, illegal oil refining and the sabotage of pipelines. 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.”

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