Shell wins battle to block cases over oil spills in Niger Delta from being heard in English courts

The firm representing the claimants is planning to appeal against the ruling. Credit: PA

Oil giant Shell has succeeded in a legal battle to block claims brought against it by more than 40,000 Nigerians from being heard by the English courts, lawyers say.

The company announced that a High Court judge in London ruled that the court does not have jurisdiction to try actions by two Nigerian communities over oil spills in the Niger Delta.

Royal Dutch Shell (RDS) and the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) argued that the cases should be heard by the courts in Nigeria.

But individuals from both communities have previously said they believe they will only get "justice" in the English courts.

UK law firm Leigh Day, which represents the two groups, has said the claims were over "extensive environmental damage caused by oil pollution".

Who are the claimants?

  • Bille Kingdom of Nigeria

The first claim was being brought on behalf of approximately 2,335 individuals, mostly fishermen, from the Bille Kingdom of Nigeria.

They have said their environment has been destroyed by oil spills over the past five years.

Some residents claim they have even been forced to stack sandbags outside their homes to try to prevent oil entering their properties, their lawyers said.

  • Ogale Community

The second claim was brought on behalf of the Ogale Community in Ogoniland which is around 40,000 people.

The community has said they have been subjected to repeated oil spills from Shell’s pipelines since at least 1989, some of which have still not been cleaned up.

In 2011, testing of Ogale by the United Nations Environmental Programme, found serious contamination of agricultural land and waterways and groundwater in the community.

The King of Ogale brought bottles of polluted water from his community to a hearing at the High Court in November. Credit: AP

What was the conclusion?

A High Court judge said today that: "...there is simply no connection whatsoever between this jurisdiction and the claims brought by the claimants, who are Nigerian citizens, for breaches of statutory duty and/or in common law for acts and omissions in Nigeria, by a Nigeria company."

The court also ruled that some of the evidence on the part of the claimants that was relied upon to found a claim against RDS (rather than SPDC) is "extremely thin" and "bordering on sketchy".

Igo Weli, General Manager for External Relations, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) said: “Both Bille and Ogale are areas heavily impacted by crude oil theft, pipeline sabotage and illegal refining, which remain the main sources of pollution across the Niger Delta.

"The judge correctly decided that the holding company, Royal Dutch Shell, had no legal responsibility for harm to the communities in the Niger Delta caused by criminal interference in Nigeria with the operations of a joint venture in which the Nigerian government owns a majority interest."

What next?

Leigh Day has announced it is planning to appeal against the ruling.