People Legal

Niger Delta Oil Spills: UK’s Supreme Court permits claims

Uk’s Supreme Court has ruled that 42,500 people in Nigeria’s Niger delta region can make their claims against Shell Corporation in English courts.

Before the ruling which came on Friday Febuary 12, a Dutch court has given an order that Shell should compensate farmers for oil spills on land in two villages (Ogale and Bille communities) in the Niger Delta following a 13 years legal battle.

Those making the claims have said that the case should be heard in London, as they do not trust the transparency of Nigerian courts.

The ruling read:

Okpabi and others (Appellants) v Royal Dutch Shell Plc and another (Respondents)
Case ID: UKSC 2018/0068
Case summary


Whether and in what circumstances the UK-domiciled parent company of a multi-national group of companies may owe a common law duty of care to individuals who allegedly suffer serious harm as a result of alleged systemic health, safety and environmental failings of one of its overseas subsidiaries as the operator of a joint venture operation.


The Appellants (some 42,500 people) are citizens of Nigeria and inhabitants of the areas allegedly affected by oil leaks from pipelines and associated infrastructure, that SPDC operates on behalf of an unincorporated joint venture in which numerous participating interests are held, in and around the Niger Delta.

The leaks are said to have impacted their lives, health and local environment. They contend that the Respondents are responsible.

Royal Dutch Shell Plc (‘RDS’) is the parent company of the Shell group of companies, incorporated in the UK. The Shell Petroleum Company of Nigeria Limited (‘SPDC’, the other Respondent) is an exploration and production company incorporated in Nigeria and is a subsidiary of RDS. The claims against RDS and SPDC are based on the tort of negligence under the common law of Nigeria which, for present purposes, is to be regarded as the same as the law of England and Wales.

The claim against RDS is brought on the basis that RDS owed the claimants a duty of care either because it exercised significant control over material aspects of SPDC’s operations and/or assumed responsibility for SPDC’s operations. RDS applied under CPR Part 11(1) for orders declaring that the court had no jurisdiction to try the claims against it, or should not exercise such jurisdiction as it had. At first instance Fraser J held that there was no arguable case that RDS owed the Appellants a duty of care. The Appellants appealed to the CA against the judgment and Order of Fraser J.

The CA upheld the decision of Fraser J. The Supreme Court has since clarified the law in this area, including by reference to the CA’s decision in this case, in Vedanta Resources PLC and another (Appellants) v Lungowe and others (Respondents) [2019] UKSC 20.

Judgment appealed

About the author

Festus Ezeifedi Chukwuemeka

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