A court in London will in the next few weeks decide whether Royal Dutch Shell can face trial in the UK over oil spill allegations in Nigeria.
The High Court will judge whether members from two communities, Bille and Ogale in Nigeria’s oil-rich Delta region, can sue the Anglo-Dutch company in British courts.
The communities say Nigerian courts are unfit to hear the case against Shell subsidiary Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC). Shell says the case should be heard in Nigeria because the matter is “uniquely a Nigerian problem”.
Shell also denies responsibility for the spills, which it says were due to sabotage and illegal refining.
If the High Court rules in favour of the communities, some legal experts say other claimants against British-based multinationals would be emboldened to pursue legal action through the British courts.
Some legal experts also warned that a victory by the communities could encourage unscrupulous residents to let oil spills worsen at remote sites by denying clean-up access, as payouts are often linked to the scale of the damage.
“This case brings home the message that multinationals may increasingly face claims in the English courts arising from disputes which have little or no connection to England,” said Tom Cummins, a partner at law firm Ashurst.