English Supreme Court: Ogale Community defeats Royal Dutch Shell
There seems to be light at the end of the tunnel for the people of Ogale and Bille Communities in Rivers State, Nigeria. This follows the a landmark judgment made at the English Supreme Court in United Kingdom on February 12, 2021 which stipulates that the British Court has jurisdiction to hear the petition filed by those host communities against the Royal Dutch Shell for environmental concerns.
In 2011, Ogale community in alliance with Bille Community both of Rivers State contracted Leigh Day, a law firm to represent her in her claims against Shell’s parent company, Royal Dutch Shell PLC (“RDS”) and its Nigerian subsidiary, the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (“SPDC”).
Information made available to the press by the English Supreme Court on 12th February 2021, Ogale and Bile communities were quoted to have alleged that “Numerous oil spills have occurred from oil pipelines and associated infrastructure operated in the vicinity of the appellants’ communities in Nigeria, causing widespread environmental damage including serious water and ground contamination. The appellants’ case is that the oil spills were caused by the negligence of a Nigerian registered company named The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd (“SPDC”), the second respondent in these proceedings, which operates the pipeline and infrastructure under a joint venture. SPDC is a subsidiary of the first respondent, Royal Dutch Shell Plc (“RDS”), a UK domiciled company and the parent company of the multinational Shell group. The appellants contend that that RDS owed them a common law duty of care because it exercised significant control over material aspects of SPDC’s operations and/or assumed responsibility for SPDC’s operations, which allegedly failed to protect the appellants against the risk of foreseeable harm arising from SPDC’s operations.”
Proceeding to the Appeal Court as the High Court on 26 January 2017, had contended that “although it had jurisdiction to try the claims against RDS, the claims did not have a real prospect of success and, as a consequence, the conditions for granting permission to serve the claim on SPDC as “necessary or proper party” to the claims against RDS for the purposes of the jurisdictional gateway in paragraph 3.1(3) of Practice Direction 6B was not made out. Accordingly, orders were made setting aside service of the claim forms on SPDC and striking out the appellants’ statements of case insofar as they related to RDS.”
Dissatisfied with this judgment, Ogale and Bile Communities filed an appeal against the High Court Judgment which was decided on 14th February 2018 after a three-day hearing at the Court of Appeal. “Whilst it was found that the High Court judge had erred in certain respects in his approach to the evidence, the majority of Court of Appeal reached the same conclusion that there was no arguable case that RDS owed the appellants a duty of care.”
However, Ogale and Bile Communities maintained their position on the said matter and took another legal battle to the English Supreme Court. The Supreme Court then ruled in favour of those host communities hence, the matter would be returned to the High Court as published by the Supreme Court.
In his reaction to the judgment, the elated Paramount Ruler of Ogale Community and the District Head of Nchia City, HRH Ɛmԑrԑ Godwin Bebe-Okpabi KSC, JP (Ͻnԑ Ɛԑ Ɛta Ogale XI and Ͻnԑ Ɛԑ Nchia X) has called on the Royal Dutch Shell and her subsidiary, the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria for an out of court settlement in order to provide quicker remedy to the challenges his people are currently facing as a result of the alleged pollution:
“Well we are very happy, and we are very grateful to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom for giving us this very rightful judgment. We hope that at this point, the Royal Dutch Shell and her subsidiary will stop dragging us through the court system and would want to sit down with us, to discuss how to bring succour – how to take care of the underground water that has been destroyed at Ogale, how to remediate our land and to give us a livelihood. We have been on this for seven years; our people are dying due to their activities on our land since 1956 so we are very happy for this court ruling.”
The King alleged that his people were currently suffering from strange disease and appealed for proper medical examination and record be taken in his land. He then advised the Royal Dutch Shell to dialogue with his people instead of spending huge resources on the legal process.
On his part, Leigh Day partner Daniel Leader, who represents the claimants, said:
“This Supreme Court judgment gives real hope to the people of Ogale and Bille who have been asking Shell to clean up their oil for years. We hope that now, finally, Shell will act.
“But it also represents a watershed moment in the accountability of multinational companies. Increasingly impoverished communities are seeking to hold powerful corporate actors to account and this judgment will significantly increase their ability to do so.”
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP’s) report on the Environmental Assessment of Ogoni and Eleme land as published in August 2011 reveals the scope of environmental degradation in the land:
“In one community, at Nsinsioken Ogale, Eleme LGA., families were drinking water from wells that are contaminated with benzene – a known carcinogen at levels over 900 times above World Health Organisation guidelines. The site is close to a Nigeria National Petroleum Company pipeline.”
Click on the link below to watch an interview session with the King.
For the full details of the judgment click on