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23 Nov 2023

Leigh Day

Nigerian villagers can bring human rights claims against Shell over oil pollution in the Niger Delta in the UK, High Court rules

"High Court rules Nigerian communities can bring landmark human rights claims against Shell for oil pollution", 23 Nov 2023

The High Court has ruled that 13,000 Nigerian fishermen and farmers at the centre of a major oil pollution case against Shell can bring claims for breaches of their right to a clean environment under Nigerian constitutional law. If the case succeeds at trial, it will be the first time in legal history that a UK multinational will have been found to have breached a communities’ right to a clean environment...

The judge found it could be argued the pollution has fundamentally breached the villagers’ right to a clean environment under the Nigerian Constitution and the African Charter and those constitutional rights were directly enforceable and can be relied upon against companies like Shell...such claims have no limitation period, meaning Shell would not be able to evade liability on the grounds the communities did not bring their claims within a narrow time frame.

Shell says it has no legal responsibility for the chronic pollution caused in the Niger Delta by its subsidiary, the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd (SPDC), which it is claimed has destroyed the villagers’ way of life and created serious risks to public health. The company... has offered the Ogale and Bille communities no remedy or compensation and left the communities chronically polluted.

In 2021...the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that “there is a good arguable case” that Shell plc (the UK based parent company) is legally responsible for the pollution caused by its Nigerian subsidiary. Despite this, the communities’ legal representatives at law firm Leigh Day say the global oil giant has continued to try to delay and stop the claims...Shell raised a series of technical issues which sought to narrow the claims and had the potential to significantly delay the case. These arguments have now been dismissed by the High Court.

Leigh Day international team partner Matthew Renshaw...says Shell must now accept responsibility for the pollution...

“This ruling is a significant moment in the eight-year battle by the Ogale and Bille communities to get Shell to take responsibility for the oil pollution that has blighted their land...Shell has repeatedly resorted to using technicalities to try to block and delay our clients’ claims. Under Nigerian constitutional law, Shell would no longer be able to argue it has no responsibility for the pollution... We now hope to move without further delay towards a trial where our clients’ claims for a full clean-up and compensation...can be fully heard.”...