A Judge in London on Thursday overturned an attempt by lawyers to a Nigerian community to carry over a 2010 ruling by a Nigerian court for enforcement in the U.K.
The ruling was in respect of an oil spill caused by Shell in Ejama-Ebubu, part of Ogoniland in Rivers state , over 50 years ago. A Nigerian court awarded damages to the tune of $516million.
Judge Jason Coppel, said 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 U.K. 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 U.K. Supreme Court to decide its jurisdiction.
Thursday’s case originated from a claim brought in 2001 by the 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 U.K. courts to enforce the award if necessary. Thursday’s judgment sets aside the registration, preventing its enforcement in the U.K.
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.–Bloomberg