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Proposal to change EU law would deny justice to multinationals’ human rights victims

Leigh Day and NGOs forward submission to EC regarding Regulation 44/2001

Asbestos victims in South Africa. Photo: Hein du Plessis

13 January 2010

As part of the review of the Brussels I Regulation by the European Commission, the UK government has proposed changes to the Regulation that could have serious consequences for victims in developing country of EU companies.  The government has proposed that a mechanism should be introduced into the Brussels I Regulation to enable proceedings, that have been properly instituted in an EU court, to be halted on the grounds that the courts of the developing country, where the multinational operations were conducted, are a more appropriate venue for the case.

In 2005, the European Court of Justice ruled that the EU courts did not have the power to decline to hear cases brought against EU defendants on the grounds that there was a more appropriate venue for the case elsewhere. Prior to 2005, a series of human rights cases, most notably on behalf of South African workers suing British multinationals, had been subject to protracted and costly litigation in the UK courts, solely over the question of jurisdiction.

Richard Meeran, a partner in the international claims department at Leigh Day, represented 7,500 miners who were exposed to deadly asbestos dust in the South African mines of Cape plc.  When the miners sued Cape plc in the British courts, the company argued that the South African courts were a more appropriate forum for the claims.  Some one thousand miners of the original 7,500 claimants died during the case that lasted for seven years, before it was finally settled in 2003.  

Richard says:
“The UK government’s proposals, if accepted, would turn the clock back and result in a denial of justice especially for impoverished developing country victims who are frequently subjected to standards of health and safety that are lower than in the UK”.

Leigh Day & Co, Amnesty International, One World Action, Rights & Accountability in Development, Corner house, Global Witness, the CORE Coalition of 130 NGOs, and the TUC (Trades Union Congress) have collectively filed a submission with the European Commission, setting out their opposition to this retrograde step.

Information was correct at time of publishing. See terms and conditions for further details.

Information was correct at time of publishing. See terms and conditions for further details.

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