UK Supreme Court Rules that Nigerian Communities can Sue Shell in the UK
Landmark Judgment in Case of Okpabi and Others v Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDS) and Another

first published 25 February 2021

On Friday 12 February 2021, the UK Supreme Court ruled that the Court of Appeal was wrong to refuse villagers from the Ogale and Bille communities in the Niger Delta permission to sue Royal Dutch Shell (RDS) in London for damages allegedly caused by numerous oil spills from Shell oil pipelines.

The Appeal Court had previously ruled that the English courts have no jurisdiction to hear the case because RDS was found not to exercise control over its Nigerian subsidiaries.

The Supreme Court held that the test for liability of a parent company is broader: a duty of care may arise when the parent company takes over or shares with its subsidiary the management of the relevant activity, or through the promulgation of group-wide standards.

This wider approach to liability considerably opens up the space for future claims against UK-based parent companies.

The Corner House was an intervenor in the Supreme Court case, represented pro bono by Hausfeld and Ben Jaffey QC, to whom we extend our thanks.

The Corner House submitted evidence from a Milan court, where Shell is being prosecuted for international corruption, showing that the parent company exercises significant control over its Nigerian subsidiaries and that Royal Dutch Shell’s claim to be just “a holding company” was not credible.

The Corner House congratulates the communities and their legal team at Leigh Day for winning this landmark judgment. The Supreme Court has ruled that there is a good arguable case that Royal Dutch Shell is liable for the pollution it is said to have caused. We will stand by the communities in solidarity as they enter the next stage of their legal struggle. May justice prevail.