Royal Dutch Shell won a UK ruling preventing London courts from enforcing a $516 million Nigerian judgment for damages caused by an oil spill half a century ago.
Judge Jason Coppel on Thursday overturned an attempt to carry over a 2010 ruling by a Nigerian court to the UK, saying that those proceedings were unfair because Shell was denied an opportunity to present a defense.
Shell’s Nigerian units have been beset by lawsuits, many of them in UK courts, for their part in oil spills on the Niger Delta. The oil conglomerate has often sought to transfer the cases to Nigeria, with one even going to the UK Supreme Court to decide its jurisdiction.
Thursday’s case originated from a claim brought in 2001 by the Ejama-Ebubu community. They claimed that an oil spill by Shell had made their water sources unfit for human consumption. Shell disputed responsibility for the spill and said it had made substantial progress clearing it up.
After nine years of wrangling, in which Shell was alleged by a Nigerian judge to have tried to frustrate proceedings, the court awarded the community the damages plus interest, which by that time had increased the award to more than 10 times its initial value of 33 million pounds. Shell appealed to the Nigerian Supreme Court, initially having their application dismissed. A further hearing is due to take place in January.
Meanwhile, the claimants had the original Nigerian award registered in London using a century-old law, allowing the UK courts to enforce the award if necessary. Thursday’s judgment sets aside the registration, preventing its enforcement in the UK
Nicholas Ekhorutomwen, a lawyer for that Ejama-Ebubu community, said they were “disappointed” with the decision and would appeal.
Shell said in a statement that the matter was still subject to legal proceedings in Nigeria and that it remained their position “that no payment was due.” It also said the company completed a clean-up of the spill sites in 2013.