United Kingdom Supreme Court rules on a jurisdictional issue against Shell


In a landmark decision in the case of Okpabi and others v Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Another, the United Kingdom Supreme Court (“UKSC”) ruled on a jurisdictional issue on whether the claimants/appellants have an arguable case that the defendants/respondents – Royal Dutch Shell (an English domiciled company) – owed them a common law duty of care so as properly to found jurisdiction against a foreign subsidiary company (Shell Petroleum Development Corporation Limited, domiciled in Nigeria) as a necessary and proper party to the proceedings. This jurisdictional aspect was concerned with whether there was a real issue to be tried against the anchor defendant – Royal Dutch Shell (an English domiciled company).

The facts of the case was that the claimants/appellants, who are Nigerian citizens alleged that as a result of the negligence of  Shell Petroleum Development Corporation Limited, numerous oil spills have occurred from oil pipelines and associated infrastructure operated in the vicinity of the claimants’/appellants’ communities. It is said that these oil spills have caused widespread environmental damage, including serious water and ground contamination, and have not been adequately cleaned up or remediated. It is also alleged that as a result of the spills, the natural water sources in the claimants’/appellants’ communities cannot safely be used for drinking, fishing, agricultural, washing or recreational purposes.

The High Court and Court of Appeal resolved this jurisdictional issue against the claimants/appellants, but the UKSC found merit in their appeal.

Analyses and comments on this decision are most welcome!

5 replies
  1. Ekaterina Aristova says:

    The UK Supreme Court did not rule that the case could proceed in the English courts if I am not mistaken. It found that the lower courts erred in their decision that the claimants did not establish a real issue to be tried against an English-domiciled parent company which was an important part of the jurisdictional challenge. But there are still other jurisdictional challenges that have not been resolved by the lower courts (e.g., assertion of jurisdiction over the foreign subsidiary). So technically the case is still at the jurisdictional stage, and the lower courts now have to resolve these other jurisdictional challenges.

  2. Chukwuma Okoli says:

    It would be a good thing if you can write a comment on the UKSC’s decision in this blog. I did some research and discovered that you have been working on this area for a long time now, and have previously done some comments on this issue in this blog.

    Different perspectives on the UKSC’s decision would be most welcome!

  3. Francisco Javier Zamora Cabot says:

    These cases do indeed raise a number of interrelated issues of a great complexity, as Professor Aristova says. And, in relation to Opkabi Case, there are still some questions to elucidate at the jurisdictional stage. But I daresay that the UKSC is advancing steadily in the good direction, that is, facilitating access to justice, as their Lordships did in Vedanta Case. I hope that, in line with Vedanta, the rest of jurisdictional issues may be solved in favour of the victims, too, although this cannot be taken as granted. I offer here my own comments on Vedanta, should they be of any help in order to deepen the analysis of these important and intellectually challenging matters: https://ced.revistas.deusto.es/article/view/1877/2271 .

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