22 November 2016, Lagos – Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell on Tuesday urged a High Court judge in Britain to block pollution claims brought against it by more than 40,000 Nigerians, demanding the case be heard in Nigeria instead.
Lawyers for the claimants are demanding action from Shell to clean up oil spills that have devastated their Niger Delta communities for decades. But Royal Dutch Shell lawyer Peter Goldsmith told High Court of England and Wales judge Peter Fraser that the cases concerned “fundamentally Nigerian issues”, and shouldn’t be heard in London.
“The claims raise issues of Nigerian common law, customary law and legislation,” he said during the first day of the three-day hearing. “The events are said to have occurred in Nigeria and the alleged physical damage is all said to be found in Nigeria.”
Shell pointed out that the case involves its Nigerian subsidiary SPDC, which runs a joint venture with the government.
Goldsmith said the case was aimed at “procuring an ‘anchor defendant’” to establish the High Court’s jurisdiction over SPDC, opening the door for further claims. Daniel Leader from legal firm Leigh Day, which is representing the claimants, said oil spills from Shell’s pipelines had “blighted the lives of the thousands of Nigerians who live in Ogale and Bille” communities.
“It is clear to the claimants that Royal Dutch Shell is ultimately responsible for failing to ensure that its Nigerian subsidiary operates without causing environmental devastation,” he said in a statement.
“At the moment these communities have no choice — they have to take them to court to get them to act.” King Emere Godwin Bebe Okpabi of the Ogale community told AFP his community had no option but to seek a ruling in London.
“Shell is Nigeria and Nigeria is Shell,” he said. “You can never, never defeat Shell in a Nigerian court. The truth is that the Nigerian legal system is corrupt.”
SPDC claims that the main sources of pollution in Ogale and Bille are “crude oil theft, pipeline sabotage and illegal refining.”