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Shell lawsuit (re oil spills & Ogale & Bille communities in Nigeria - Okpabi v Shell)

shell wikiOn 14 October and 22 December 2015, the Ogale and Bille Nigerian communities respectively filed claims against the UK company Royal Dutch Shell plc (hereinafter Shell) and its Nigerian subsidiary Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) in the UK High Court. Both claims were brought by law firm Leigh Day on behalf of around 42,500 residents and citizens of Nigeria who seek remedy for extensive oil pollution which considerably affected their livelihoods and the environment. The claimants argue that Shell failed to adequately prevent oil spills and subsequently to conduct proper clean-up in order to avoid serious contamination of agricultural lands and waterways. 

On 2 March 2016, the Technology and Construction Court gave permission to the claimants to sue Shell in England, and ruled that formal legal proceedings could proceed to the next stage in the London High Court. The company challenged both communities’ lawsuits, arguing that pipeline sabotage and illegal refining had been the main sources of pollution across the Niger Delta, and that the cases should be heard in Nigeria instead of the UK. 

On 26 January 2017, the High Court held that the communities could not seek redress against Shell in English courts. The Judge concluded that there was not sufficient evidence that Shell exercised a high degree of oversight, control or direction over SPDC, and therefore that the parent company had no legal responsibility for pollution by its Nigerian subsidiary. The claimants appealed this decision, arguing that the Judge reached this conclusion before disclosure of relevant documents or hearing witnesses about the relationship between Shell and SPDC. 

On 14 February 2018, the Court of Appeal upheld the High Court’s ruling, with a majority of judges holding that the parent company did not hold a duty of care towards affected communities. 

Following the dismissal, the claimants announced their intention to bring the case to the UK Supreme Court. On 27 April 2018, over 40 UK and international human rights, development and environmental NGOs submitted a letter to the Supreme Court supporting the claimants’ application to appeal. They asserted that the Appeal Court’s judgment could greatly limit access to justice for people harmed by UK companies’ international operations. On 9 July 2018, the Supreme Court announced that the Appeal Panel had decided to defer consideration of the claimants’ application to appeal until judgment is given in a similar parent company liability case being examined at the Supreme Court, namely Vedanta Resources PLC and another (Appellants) v Lungowe and others (Respondents). In May 2019, civil society organizations asked the UK Supreme Court to allow the fishing communities to appeal against the 2017 ruling saying that Shell did not hold a duty of care towards affected communities. In July 2019, the UK Supreme Court granted permission to appeal.

News

- "UK Supreme Court to hear Nigerians' case for pursuing Shell spill claim in England", 24 July 2019
"Nigerian fishermen fight for permission to appeal oil pollution ruling", The Times (UK), 30 April 2018
"Appeal court rules Nigerians cannot pursue Shell spill claim in England", Reuters, 14 February 2018
"Court of Appeal to hear Nigerian villagers' pollution claims against Shell", Leigh Day, 21 November 2017
"UK court hears appeal in Shell Nigeria oil spill case", Al Jazeera (Qatar), 21 November 2017
"Shell battles Nigerian communities in high-stakes London lawsuit", Reuters, 6 January 2017
"Shell Fights Lawsuits Over Environmental Record in Nigeria", Morning Star Advisor, 19 November 2016
“40,000 Nigerians take Shell to UK court over oil spills", Nigeria Today, 16 November 2016
- “Two new legal actions launched against Shell over Nigerian oil pollution”, Leigh Day, 1 March 2016

NGO Statements

“Seeking justice: the rising tide of court cases against Shell”,Amnesty International, May 2018
Court of Appeal Decisions Threatens to Close Route to Justice, CORE Coalition (UK), 1 May 2018
UK Supreme Court should allow 40.000 Nigerian villagers appeal a ruling that leaves victims of Shell's oil spills without remedy, civil society demands, European Coalition for Corporate Justice, 30 April 2018
"UK Court of Appeal Rules Royal Dutch Shell Not Liable for Nigeria Oil Spills", CORE Coalition, 15 February 2018
"UK: Shell ruling could give green light to corporations for abuses abroad", Amnesty International, 23 January 2017

 Legal Documents

Okpabi and others (Appellants) v Royal Shell Plc and another (Respondents),Registrar of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, 9 July 2019 
Rule 15 submission to the Supreme Court of the UK by CORE Coalition & Others on behalf of Okpabi et al. v Royal Dutch Shell, CORE, 27 April 2018 
Okpabi and Others v Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria LTD and Alame and others v Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria LTD, Court of Appeal (Civil Division), 14 February 2018
Okpabi and Others v Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria LTD, High Court of Justice Queen’s Bench Division, 26 January 2017

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Article
21 November 2017

UK court hears appeal in Shell Nigeria oil spill case

Author: Ahmed Idris, Al Jazeera (Qatar)

The outcome of an appeal hearing against a verdict issued earlier this year in Britain is being eagerly awaited in Nigeria.

Communities in Rivers State are demanding that energy giant Royal Dutch Shell clean up oil spills and pay the associated costs.

But Royal Dutch Shell says the case should be dealt with in Nigeria.

Al Jazeera's Ahmed Idris reports from the Ogale region in Rivers State, Nigeria.

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Article
24 January 2017

Court to decide on whether lawsuit against Shell over oil spills in Niger Delta can be heard in UK

Author: Amnesty International

"UK: Shell ruling could give green light to corporations for abuses abroad", 23 Jan 2017

On Thursday 26 January the UK High Court will rule on whether two Niger Delta communities whose environment and livelihoods were destroyed by oil spills can have their claims against Shell heard in the UK.  The case could set a precedent for holding other UK-based multinationals to account for abuses committed overseas.  “This ruling will have wide-ranging implications for corporations based in the UK that abuse human rights abroad. If the court rules that the communities cannot have their case heard in the UK it would effectively be a green light for UK multinationals to profit from human rights abuses and environmental destruction around the world,” said Audrey Gaughran, Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International.  Two separate legal actions have been brought against Shell on behalf of more than 42,000 people from the Ogale and Bille communities in Nigeria’s Rivers State, who live with appalling pollution caused by oil spills.  Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary SPDC argues that the case is outside UK jurisdiction and should be heard in Nigeria. Amnesty International and other organizations have exposed how rural communities affected by oil pollution frequently face insurmountable challenges when trying to take Shell to court in Nigeria.

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Article
10 January 2017

Court to decide if Shell can face trial in UK in lawsuit by communities over oil spill in Nigeria

Author: Karolin Schaps & Libby George, Reuters (UK)

"Shell battles Nigerian communities in high-stakes London lawsuit", 6 Jan 2017

A court in London will decide in coming weeks whether Royal Dutch Shell can face trial in the UK over oil spill allegations in Nigeria, a decision some legal experts predict could attract more cases against multinationals...The High Court will judge whether members from two communities, Bille and Ogale...can sue the Anglo-Dutch company in British courts...Shell says the case should be heard in Nigeria because the matter is “uniquely a Nigerian problem”.  Shell also denies responsibility for the spills...If the High Court rules in favor of the communities, some legal experts say other claimants against British-based multinationals would be emboldened to pursue legal action through the British courts.  Some legal experts also warned that a victory by the communities could encourage unscrupulous residents to let oil spills worsen...as payouts are often linked to the scale of the damage...The Bille and Ogale groups launched their claim just months after Shell agreed a 55 million pound ($68 million) settlement in 2015 with...the Bodo community..."We fully intend to have this (jurisdictional issue) decided by a trial judge, to determine the issue once and for all," said...legal counsel for Shell...

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Article
18 November 2016

40,000 Nigerians take Shell to UK court over oil spills

Author: Nigeria Today (Nigeria)

"40,000 Nigerians take Shell to UK court over oil spills", 16 Nov 2016

UK based oil firm, Shell, is facing fenvironmental claims in a London high court from two Nigerian communities who have suffered pollution episodes following repeated large scale oil spills from the oil giant’s pipelines in the Niger Delta. The two separate legal actions are being brought by law firm Leigh Day who represented the Bodo Community against Shell in an unprecedented environmental claim resulting in Shell agreeing to pay compensation package of £55million to the Community and 15,600 Nigerian fishermen whose livelihoods had been destroyed by Shell’s oil pollution. The high court will begin to hear arguments during a four-day hearing starting on November 21, 2016 on whether the English courts can hear two legal claims on behalf of over 40,000 Nigerians against Royal Dutch Shell (RDS) and its Nigerian subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd (SPDC) for extensive environmental damage caused by oil pollution to two separate communities in the Niger Delta...The first claim is being brought on behalf of 2,335 individuals from the Bille Kingdom of Nigeria...The second claim is brought on behalf of the Ogale Community in Ogoniland, which consists of roughly 40,000 people...

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Article
1 March 2016

Two new legal actions launched against Shell over Nigerian oil pollution

Author: Leigh Day (UK)

UK based oil giant Shell is facing fresh environmental claims in the London High Court from two Nigerian communities who allege they have suffered from repeated large scale oil spills from its pipelines in the Niger Delta. The first Court hearing for both claims will take place on 2nd March 2016 at the Technology and Construction Court. The two separate legal actions are being brought by law firm Leigh Day…The two new claims against Royal Dutch Shell plc (RDS) and the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd (SPDC) have now been issued in the High Court in London on behalf of residents of the Ogale Community in Ogoniland and the Bille Kingdom.

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