A critical point in the legal cases brought by two Niger Delta communities, Ogale and Bille, and over 13,000 individual residents, against oil giant Shell will take place at a five-day hearing in the High Court in London from Monday 24 July to Friday 28 July 2023.
There are several issues that the court will be asked to determine, including:
- Whether Shell can delay and limit the scope of the claims and avoid legal scrutiny of the parent company, Shell plc’s, actions including by delaying Shell plc’s disclosure obligations.
- Whether the claimants can add to their legal claims details of over 80 further Shell spills which impacted their communities.
- Whether the claimants are entitled to seek to hold Shell liable for their alleged violations of their rights under the Nigerian Constitution and the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights. The claimants argue that their fundamental rights, including their right to a clean and healthy environment, have been breached by the devastating oil pollution in the Niger Delta.
Despite the first of these cases being filed in 2015, the claims are still at an early procedural stage after Shell spent years trying - unsuccessfully - to stop them proceeding in the UK. In 2021 the Supreme Court ruled unanimously
that there was a ‘good arguable case’ that Shell plc, the UK parent company, were liable for the pollution affecting the two communities and that the cases should be heard in London.
Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, Shell is now arguing that there should be a full trial against Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary, which would take several years, before Shell plc are subjected to the court’s processes. This would mean that Shell plc would have no disclosure obligations and would not be under legal scrutiny until after the trial relating to its Nigerian subsidiary was completed.
The international team of lawyers at law firm Leigh Day which has represented the Niger Delta communities in their eight-year battle to hold Shell to account, say Shell’s applications are part of the company’s attempts to delay legal accountability. The Supreme Court made it very clear that the responsibilities and procedures of Shell plc and its Nigerian subsidiary, SPDC, are intertwined, and so the claimants argue the cases against both must be heard together.
The arguments to be heard by the court are particularly important given that the company is currently seeking to divest from the region leaving behind what has been recently labelled by an international commission of experts as an “environmental genocide”
At a hearing in April 2023
Shell made another attempt to delay the case by arguing that the arguments on points of Nigerian law should be heard first in a separate hearing, which would result in the case being delayed. The judgment on that point is outstanding.
Leigh Day partner Dan Leader is leading the claim on behalf of the Ogale and Bille communities. He said:
“Once again, eight years after these claims were issued, Shell are trying to further delay the proceedings and to protect the parent company, Shell plc, from any legal scrutiny. While they deploy a myriad of meritless technical legal arguments our clients continue to live with the devastating impacts of pollution from Shell’s oil pipelines.
“A responsible company would ensure clean up takes place quickly, public health is protected and people whose livelihoods have been destroyed are compensated. But Shell is showing itself to have little regard for the Nigerian communities it has operated in for decades. We hope and expect the court to cut through Shell’s obstruction and progress the litigation quickly.”