Tomorrow’s UK Supreme Court Hearing: Nigerian Communities vs Shell

By Dominic Twomey, Campaigner, Amnesty’s Business and Human Rights Team (International Secretariat)

On Tuesday 23 June, the UK Supreme Court will hear an appeal into the case “Okpabi and others (Appellants) v Royal Dutch Shell Plc and another (Respondents).”  The communities represent over 40,000 Nigerians from the Niger Delta and argue that they have been badly affected by oil spills from oil pipelines owned and operated by Shell.  The devastating effect on the ecology of the Niger Delta and its citizens has been well documented and in 2011, a United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) report recommended an urgent clean-up, but to date, no clean-up has taken place.

The communities have taken their case to the English courts on the basis that Royal Dutch Shell (RDS), which is headquartered in London, is legally responsible for the environmental failures of the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC), a subsidiary of RDS. The court proceedings to date have focused on the question of whether RDS can be sued in the English courts for damage caused by its Nigerian subsidiary.  The UK Supreme Court clarified the law in this area in April 2019, in a case in which Vedanta Resources Plc was held to be liable for the acts, including pollution and release of toxic emissions from its Zambian subsidiary, the Konkola Copper Mine.

The communities’ case was originally heard in the UK High Court in November, 2016 with The High Court ruling in January, 2017 that RDS was not responsible for the pollution as it is a holding company which did not exercise any control over SPDC. That decision was appealed and the UK Court of Appeal held by majority in February, 2018 that there was insufficient evidence of “operational control” by RDS to hold it liable.  This case has now been appealed to the UK Supreme Court.


Additional Information and Resources:

Link to the UK Supreme Court page which will livestream the hearing from 10:30 (BST-London) on Tuesday 23 June 2020. (Case is expected to last one day)

Previous ruling “Okpabi and others (Appellants) v Royal Dutch Shell Plc and another (Respondents) (14 Feb 2018) which is being appealed at tomorrow’s hearing:

Please find the following blog post from Amnesty’s Mark Dummett on the importance of Tuesday’s Supreme Court hearing on Shell, and why this matters:

The Press Release from Leigh Day (Lawyers representing the Appellants)

Amnesty International report: “No Clean-Up, No Justice: An evaluation of the implementation of UNEP’s environmental assessment of Ogoniland, nine years on.”  (AI Index AFR 44/2514/2020).

Previous Amnesty International report: “On Trial: Shell in Nigeria, Legal Actions against the multinational,” (AI Index: AFR 44/1698/2020).