* Judgment, a dangerous precedent, says Amnesty Int’l.
The Court of Appeal in London on Wednesday held that Ogale and Bille communities could not pursue Royal Dutch Shell in English courts over oil spills caused by the multinationals subsidiary in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region.
In a split decision, the appellate court upheld a High Court ruling last year that British multinationals were not liable at home for their subsidiaries’ actions abroad.
But the verdict was a setback to attempts to hold British multinationals liable at home for their subsidiaries’ actions abroad.
The UK Appeal Court further rejected the appeal from law firm Leigh Day on behalf of Nigeria’s Bille and Ogale communities and upheld a ruling that English courts lack jurisdiction over claims against Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Company.
The SPDC is jointly operated with the federal government of Nigeria.
Shell also stated that the court “rightly upheld” the earlier ruling, and said Nigeria’s “well-developed justice system” was the correct place for the claims.
Leigh Day said the two Nigerian communities intended to bring the case to Britain’s Supreme Court.
“We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will grant permission to appeal and will come to a different view,” Leigh Day partner, Daniel Leader, said.
The European Court of Justice in 2012 ruled that Shell parent companies “…in fact exercised decisive influence over their joint subsidiary’s conduct” (Shell Petroleum NV v. European Commission  at para 51.)
Further, in 2015, the Dutch Court of Appeal ruled that, “Considering the foreseeable serious consequences of oil spills to the local environment from a potential spill source, it cannot be ruled out from the outset that the parent company may be expected in such a case to take an interest in preventing spills.
The communities have appealed the ruling.
Leigh Day is representing over 40,000 Nigerians from two communities (the Ogale Community and the Bille Community)
in claims against Royal Dutch Shell Plc and its Nigerian subsidiary, the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria.
Both communities allege that they have suffered systematic and ongoing oil pollution for years because of Shell’s operations.
Shell does not dispute that both communities have been severely polluted by its oil, or that it has yet to clean up the oil.
But in November 2016, Shell sought to block the claims in London on the grounds that the London-based parent company (Royal Dutch Shell) was not legally responsible for the pollution caused by its Nigerian subsidiary and that it was open to the communities to seek redress through the Nigerian courts.
Responding to the Court of Appeal’s verdict on Wednesday, Joe Westby, Amnesty International’s Campaigner on Business and Human Rights, described the ruling as a dangerous precedent.
He said, “With this verdict, the court has struck a blow not only to the Ogale and Bille communities, who live everyday with the devastating consequences of Shell oil spills, but with victims of corporate human rights abuses all over the world. This ruling sets a dangerous precedent and will make it more difficult to hold UK companies to account.
“The idea that powerful multinationals are not responsible for the conduct of their subsidiaries overseas has allowed Shell to evade accountability for a raft of shocking human rights abuses spanning decades. This is a textbook example of the almost insurmountable obstacles to justice faced by people who take on powerful multinationals.
“Internal Shell documents show that the company’s headquarters have known full well for decades about the massive
oil pollution caused by their operations in Nigeria, and have chosen not to stop it. If Shell cannot be held to account for such well-documented abuses, what hope is there of bringing other companies to justice?
He affirmed the communities’ intention to “take their fight for justice to the Supreme Court – this could be their last chance to see their environment restored.”
Andrew Orolua, Abuja.