Royal Dutch Shell Plc won a ruling preventing London courts from enforcing a $516 million Nigerian judgment for damages caused by an oil spill almost five decades ago.
Judge Jason Coppel on Thursday set aside a 2010 ruling by a Nigerian court, saying that those proceedings were unfair because Shell was denied an opportunity to present a defense.
Shell has been beset by lawsuits for its part in oil spills on the Niger Delta, many of them in U.K. courts. 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 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 court 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 nearly 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.
A spokesman for Shell said the matter was still subject to legal proceedings in Nigeria and that it remained their position “that no payment was due.”