On Tuesday 4th April, 2023, a High Court hearing will consider an application by Shell that could result in a further two-year delay of the legal claims of pollution brought by 13,000 Nigerian villagers against the company.
Shell is facing legal action from the Ogale and Bille communities for clean-up and compensation following severe oil pollution that has devastated their land and seriously impacted their way of life. Already the fight to bring the claim to court has taken seven years in the face of major opposition from the global oil giant.
Shell is now seeking a further delay for the villagers’ own claims to be heard by the court whilst there is a hearing on technical questions of liability raised by Shell.
Last month the group register in the Ogale claim was filed and 11,317 Ogale individual claims were issued at the High Court. Together with the existing Bille individual claims, overall 13,652 people are bringing individual claims against Shell.
Shell filed a legal Defence claiming that the communities do not have the legal right to enforce clean-up against Shell – Shell says that only the Nigerian regulator can force them to clean up. Shell also argues that it is not responsible for oil spills that happened more than five years ago, even if it has not cleaned up those oil spills and they continue to cause harm to the environment. Additionally, Shell argues that it cannot be held accountable for any spills resulting from oil theft in any circumstances, even if it has failed to protect against this risk.
Now Shell is applying to have these Nigerian law arguments heard before the main trial at which the claimants would be able to give evidence and seek justice. Shell wants these legal arguments to be heard in isolation and without hearing factual accounts from the claimants about the impact of the oil pollution on their lives.
This would be likely to mean the claimants have to wait for years longer before their full case will be heard in court. The claimants say that they are living daily with the ongoing impacts of chronic oil pollution and the UN found that there was “an immediate danger to public health” in one of the communities in 2011. They want their case to be heard as soon as possible.
The Shell application will be heard by the High Court on 4 April. If the application is granted it will mean that the Nigerian law arguments will be heard well before the Ogale and Bille villagers’ stories of systemic environmental damage can be explained to the court. The communities would have to wait until after the ruling of a further court hearing that Shell has asked to take place in 2024.
Leigh Day international team partner Matthew Renshaw, who is leading the claim against Shell with international team partner Daniel Leader, says Shell’s application is a delaying tactic aimed at wearing down the Nigerian villagers.
“Shell have resisted this claim and avoided their responsibilities towards the Ogale and Bille communities for the past seven years. That’s seven years during which tens of thousands of people have had to live their lives surrounded by oil pollution. Our clients say that their water supply is polluted, their land is polluted, their crops – their own food and livelihood – are polluted.
“Shell has resorted to commercial and legal technicalities to avoid a clean up operation to which the villagers we represent are entitled.
“It is now two years since the Supreme Court ruled that there is a “good arguable case” against Shell plc in London, but still it puts its legal might behind a strategy designed to drag out the litigation. It is high time that the claim was heard with no further delay.”