Anglo-Dutch supermajor Shell has run out of time to appeal a UK court ruling earlier this year which found that a five-year-old case on environmental pollution in the Niger Delta should be heard in the UK and not Nigeria.

In February, Shell’s lawyers failed to convince the High Court in London over the jurisdictional argument that the trial would be better decided in Nigeria, although Shell was given leave to appeal but declined to so.

Leigh Day, the London-based law firm representing the Ogale and Bille communities in the Niger Delta, said last week: "Unprecedented oil pollution claims against Royal Dutch Shell and its Nigerian subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), will finally be heard in the High Court in London after the oil giant dropped its attempts to avoid English jurisdiction."

By including the subsidiary in the UK proceedings, more documents about Shell’s work in Nigeria are likely to be made public, the law firm said.

The High Court's February 2021 decision was grounded on the plaintiffs establishing an arguable case that the parent company should be treated as the anchor defendant, enabling the case to proceed to a judgment on civil law in the UK.

The claimants have yet to demonstrate that Shell should be held responsible for events that took place in Nigeria, on the merits of the case, while they still need to prove that the supermajor owes a duty of care and that, critically, this was breached, according to a source with knowledge of the legal proceedings.

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Leigh Day partner Daniel Leader, who is representing the claimants, described the jurisdictional decision to have the case held in the UK as “a significant win” for affected communities seeking to bring their case to trial.

“Shell’s oil contamination remains in their drinking water, land and waterways and still no clean-up has taken place,” he said.

Leigh Day senior partner Martyn Day, who represents the Bille community, added: "We are optimistic ... that we will be able to provide families and communities impacted by Shell oil spills with a comparatively straightforward route to justice.

"The courts in this country have been shown to be sympathetic to the plight of our Nigerian clients — long may that continue.”

Sabotage of pipelines

Commenting on the issue, Shell said: “The spills at issue happened in communities that are heavily impacted by oil theft, illegal oil refining and the sabotage of pipelines.

“Regardless of the cause of a spill, SPDC cleans up and remediates. It also works hard to prevent these sabotage spills, by using technology, increasing surveillance and by promoting alternative livelihoods for those who might damage pipes and equipment.

“Unfortunately, such criminal acts remain the main sources of pollution across the Niger Delta today.”