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Court of Appeal to hear Nigerian villagers' pollution claims against Shell

The Court of Appeal begins hearing an appeal on behalf of over 40,000 villagers from the Niger Delta in the latest stage of their legal battle against the oil giant Shell

Posted on 21 November 2017

Today the Court of Appeal will hear an appeal on behalf of over 40,000 villagers from the Ogale and Bille communities from the Niger Delta in the latest stage of their legal battle against the oil giant Shell.

The villagers claim that they have been severely impacted by years of oil pollution from pipelines owned by Shell and that both the London based parent company, Royal Dutch Shell Plc., and its Nigerian subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, are responsible for the pollution.

The extensive pollution of the Ogale Community was documented in detail by the United Nations in 2011, which also recommended an urgent clean-up programme be undertaken, however, no such clean-up has taken place.

Shell resists the villagers’ claims, arguing that the parent company has no responsibility for the pollution and that the claims should be heard in Nigeria rather than the UK.

The villagers are challenging a judgment from the High Court, handed down in January 2017 [His Royal Highness Okpabi & Others v Royal Dutch Shell Plc & Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd [2017] EWHC 89 (TCC)].

The Judgment by Mr Justice Fraser sitting in the Technology & Construction Court, part of the High Court, blocks the villagers from bringing their claims in the English Courts.

Mr Justice Fraser concluded that Royal Dutch Shell Plc. (the parent company) has no legal responsibility for the systematic pollution of the Nigerian communities by its Nigerian subsidiary, the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd.

However, according to law firm Leigh Day which is representing the communities, the High Court Judgment wrongly struck out the claims at an early stage in the litigation before all the relevant evidence was before the Court.

The Court made its decision before any documents were disclosed and without hearing oral evidence from witnesses about the relationship between Royal Dutch Shell and its Nigerian subsidiary.

Daniel Leader, from the International Group Claims Team at Leigh Day, who is representing the communities, pointed out that the Judgment is inconsistent with recent decisions of other European courts.

In 2015, the Dutch Court of Appeal came to precisely the opposite conclusion, finding that Royal Dutch Shell did have legal responsibility for its’ Nigerian operations.

Mr Leader said: “These communities have been living with chronic levels of oil pollution for decades. They are clear that there is no prospect of obtaining justice in Nigeria and that unless their claims are allowed to proceed in the UK, Shell will not clean up their oil or compensate them for the extensive impact the pollution has had on their livelihoods.

“They are hopeful that the Court of Appeal will overturn the first-instance decision and allow their claims to proceed.”