No strikeout for Bangladeshi ship scrapping claim: but don’t hold your breath

As we mentioned on this blog last August, these days you have to be careful who you sell an old ship to. In Begum v Maran [2021] EWCA Civ 326 MUK, the English managers of a Liberian ship fit only for scrap, helped arrange her sale to a buyer who paid fairly handsomely. That buyer proceeded (entirely foreseeably) to have her scrapped by a thoroughly dodgy outfit called Zuma in a dangerous and environmentally irresponsible way on a Bangladeshi beach. A worker engaged in stripping the hulk fell to his death. Prospects of recovery from Zuma being low, if for no other reason because of a local one-year statute of limitations during the running of which nothing had been done, his widow sued MUK as of right in England because of its domicile here, alleging negligence. Jay J decided that it was arguable that MUK had owed the man a duty of care, and that the local limitations law might be circumvented, and refused a strikeout. MUK appealed.

The Court of Appeal yesterday allowed the case to go ahead, though only very grudgingly and on a more limited basis than Jay J. The Court was particularly sceptical on the limitation point. Under Rome II, applicable to the claim as it predated Brexit (and still applicable to post-Brexit claims in its domesticated form), the law governing the claim – including on the subject of limitation – was Bangladeshi. This immediately defeated the claimant unless she could escape it. The judge had regarded as possibly plausible a contention that Art.7 of Rome II allowed her to invoke English law because her husband’s death had resulted from environmental damage caused by an event here – namely, MTM’s arrangements for sale of the ship. But this was dismissed on appeal as unarguable: rightly so, since this simply wasn’t an environmental case in the first place. But the court did see it as arguable – just – that the limitation period was so short that an English court might disapply it on public policy grounds under Art.26 of Rome II, and ordered a preliminary issue on the point.

On the substantive points, the widow argued either that MUK had owed her husband a duty of care on the principle of Donoghue v Stevenson [1932] AC 562, or that MUK’s sale of the vessel when it should have known that it was likely to be dangerously demolished had created an immediate danger to her husband’s life and thus engendered a duty in respect of the bad practices of his employers Zuma.

Giving the lead judgment, Coulson J was very sceptical on the first point. This wasn’t, he said, a case of a disposal of a dangerous thing, but rather the furnishing of an opportunity for a third party to be negligent in respect of a thing not inherently perilous. Whether this could give rise to a duty his Lordship thought very doubtful indeed – but still not quite implausible enough to justify an immediate strikeout. Our view is that the doubts were fully justified. We normally expect employers to look after their employees; to put a duty on third parties to police the behaviour of contractors they engaged in that respect is to say the least drastic. Should I really have to scrutinise or supervise the employment practices of the builder I employ to extend my house in case one of his workers is hurt? It seems doubtful.

On the second point, the difficulty (a considerable one) was the general rule that people were not generally made responsible for the wrongs of others, however foreseeable. But, said Coulson J, there were possible exceptions where the danger in question had been created by a defendant. And while it seemed unlikely that this would apply here, the law was not absolutely clear and the prospect of persuading a sceptical judge to recognise a duty of care wasn’t dismal enough to deny the widow the chance to argue the toss. Her prospects might be slim, but she was entitled to chance her arm.

This case will possibly be hailed in the liberal media as an advance in the campaign to make big business in Britain take responsibility for the activities of its dodgier partners abroad. But commercial lawyers know better than to engage in chicken-counting. Remember, the claimant here only avoided a strikeout by the skin of her teeth. Her chances of recovering much over and above a nuisance value or reputation-saving settlement remain, it seems fair to say, pretty slim.

Oh, and one more thing. The ability to sue a UK-domiciled company here as of right disappeared with Brussels I Recast in a puff of celebratory Brexit firework smoke at 2300 hours on 31 December last. It follows that, barring swift adherence by the UK to the Lugano convention (increasingly unlikely by all the indications), any future claimant basing their complaint on events in a far-off land with no ostensible connection to England will now also face the prospect of a forum non conveniens application. This may well have an appreciable chance of success. There is, after all, no immediately apparent reason why the English courts should act as the policemen of work practices worldwide, hoewever much sympathy we may feel for a claimant personally.

In short, the boardrooms of corporate Britain, and even more those of their liability insurers, may well see some sighs of relief, if not discreet socially-distant celebrations, in the next few days.

Another bad week for Shell. Supreme Court allows Okpabi appeal

Yesterday, the Supreme Court, for whom Lord Hamblen gave judgment, allowed the appeal in the Okpabi Nigerian oil spill case against Shell’s UK parent, Royal Dutch Shell, Okpabi & Ors v Royal Dutch Shell Plc & Anor [2021] UKSC 3 (12 February 2021). This comes shortly after the decision of the Dutch Court of Appeal in parallel proceedings involving oil spills in other parts of Nigeria with claims against Shell’s Dutch parent and its Nigerian subsidiary.

The Supreme Court criticised the approach of both the court at first instance and of the Court of Appeal in allowing what was in effect a mini-trial based on the voluminous evidence before the Court. This was incorrect for interlocutory proceedings. Legally, in the light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Vedanta  which was given after the Court of Appeal’s judgment in Okpabi, various errors of law were apparent in the approach of the majority of the Court of Appeal.

The case made against RDS was that it owed the claimant a common law duty of care because, as pleaded, it exercised significant control over material aspects of SPDC’s operations and/or assumed responsibility for SPDC’s operations, including by the promulgation and imposition of mandatory health, safety and environmental policies, standards and manuals which allegedly failed to protect the appellants against the risk of foreseeable harm arising from SPDC’s operations. The issue of governing law pointed to the application of Nigerian law under the Rome II Regulation and it was agreed that the laws of England and Wales and the law of Nigeria wee materially the same.  The majority of the Court of Appeal (Simon LJ and the Chancellor) held that there was no arguable case that RDS owed the appellants a common law duty of care to protect them against foreseeable harm caused by the operations of SPDC. Sales LJ delivered a dissenting judgment in which he explained why he considered there was a good arguable case that RDS did owe the appellants a duty of care.

The pleaded case and the legal argument in the courts below focused on the then understood threefold test for a duty of care set out in Caparo Industries plc v Dickman [1990] 2 AC 605 and, in particular, whether there was sufficient proximity and whether it would be fair, just and reasonable to impose a duty of care. This was incorrect in the light of this court’s decision in Vedanta, where Lord Briggs had stated [49] “the liability of parent companies in relation to the activities of their subsidiaries is not, of itself, a distinct category of liability in common law negligence”.

The appellants recast their case based on Vedanta with the following four routes:

(1)              RDS taking over the management or joint management of the relevant activity of SPDC;

(2)              RDS providing defective advice and/or promulgating defective group-wide safety/environmental policies which were implemented as of course by SPDC;

(3)              RDS promulgating group-wide safety/environmental policies and taking active steps to ensure their implementation by SPDC, and

(4)              RDS holding out that it exercises a particular degree of supervision and control of SPDC.

Apart from corporate material from the Shell group there was also the evidence of Professor Jordan Siegel who produced an expert report in 2008 in litigation in the United States involving RDS’s immediate predecessors as SPDC’s parent companies. He considered that these documents showed that “The Royal Dutch/Shell Group of Companies tightly controls its Nigerian subsidiary, SPDC. This control comes in the form of monitoring and approving business plans, allocating investment resources, choosing the management, and overseeing how the subsidiary responds to major public affairs issues.” He summarised various corporate documents that post-dated his 2008 report and explains that, “there has been no material change in the senior management of the Shell Group’s ability to tightly control SPDC” since that report. Hes tated that the role of the RDS ExCo is “fundamentally the same” as the predecessor Committee of Managing Directors.

Apart from the error of conducting a mini-trial, there were two other errors of law alleged by the appellants.

The first alleged error is in the Court of Appeal’s analysis of the principles of a parent company’s liability in its consideration of the factors and circumstances which may give rise to a duty of care. The second alleged error is in the court’s overall analytical framework for determining whether a duty of care exists in cases of this type and its reliance on the Caparo threefold test.

The approach of the Court of Appeal had to be considered in the light of the guidance subsequently provided by this court in Vedanta. To the extent that the Court of Appeal indicated that the promulgation by a parent company of group wide policies or standards can never in itself give rise to a duty of care, that was inconsistent with Vedanta.  At para 52 of Vedanta Lord Briggs said that he did not consider that “there is any such reliable limiting principle”. He pointed out that: “Group guidelines … may be shown to contain systemic errors which, when implemented as of course by a particular subsidiary, then cause harm to third parties.” This is what the appellants have described as Vedanta route (2).

Secondly, the majority of the Court of Appeal may be said to have focused inappropriately on the issue of control. Simon LJ appears to have regarded proof of the exercise of control by the parent company as being As Lord Briggs pointed out in Vedanta, it all depends on: “the extent to which, and the way in which, the parent availed itself of the opportunity to take over, intervene in, control, supervise or advise the management of the relevant operations … of the subsidiary.[49]” Control was just a starting point for that question. Lord Hamblen stated:

“The issue is the extent to which the parent did take over or share with the subsidiary the management of the relevant activity (here the pipeline operation). That may or may not be demonstrated by the parent controlling the subsidiary. In a sense, all parents control their subsidiaries. That control gives the parent the opportunity to get involved in management. But control of a company and de facto management of part of its activities are two different things. A subsidiary may maintain de jure control of its activities, but nonetheless delegate de facto management of part of them to emissaries of its parent.” [147]

A specific example of a case in which a duty of care may arise regardless of the exercise of control was provided by what the appellants have described as Vedanta route (4), based on what Lord Briggs stated at para 53:

“… the parent may incur the relevant responsibility to third parties if, in published materials, it holds itself out as exercising that degree of supervision and control of its subsidiaries, even if it does not in fact do so. In such circumstances its very omission may constitute the abdication of a responsibility which it has publicly undertaken.”

The Supreme Court then went on to consider whether these errors were material to the decision of the Court of Appeal.

It held that the case set out in the pleadings, fortified by the points made in reliance upon the RDS Control Framework and the RDS HSSE Control Framework, established that there was a real issue to be tried under Vedanta routes (1) and (3).  It was not necessary to make any ruling in relation to Vedanta routes (2) and (4), and the Court preferred not to do so given that the pleading has not been structured around such a case, although it observed that there was currently no pleaded identification of systemic errors in the RDS policies and standards.

Lord Hamblen concluded [154]:

“Whilst I consider that the appellants’ pleaded case and reliance on the RDS Control Framework and the RDS HSSE Control Framework is sufficient to raise a real issue to be tried, that conclusion is further supported by their witness evidence, as summarised when setting out the appellants’ case above, and, for reasons already given, the very real prospect of relevant disclosure being provided. That prospect is specifically borne out by the evidence of Professor Siegel and the identification of some of the most likely documents of relevance in the Dutch proceedings.”

Prefering, generally, the analysis of Sales LJ  to that of the majority of the Court of Appeal he noted observations of Sales LJ at para 155 that it was significant that the Shell group is organised along Business and Functional lines rather than simply according to corporate status. This vertical structure involves significant delegation

The appellants argued that the Shell group’s vertical organisational structure means that it is comparable to Lord Briggs’ example of group businesses which “are, in management terms, carried on as if they were a single commercial undertaking, with boundaries of legal personality and ownership within the group becoming irrelevant” (para 51).  How this organisational structure worked in practice and the extent to which the delegated authority of RDS, the CEO and the RDS ExCo was involved and exercised in relation to decisions made by SPDC were very much in dispute, as apparent from the witness statements. It wa also an issue in relation to which proper disclosure was of obvious importance. It clearly raised triable issues.

Things don’t go well for Shell. Dutch Court of Appeal finds it liable for pipeline spills in Nigeria

The Dutch Court of Appeal has held that Shell Nigeria is liable for two pipeline spills in Oruma and Goi that took place between 2004-05. Shell had argued that the spills were caused by sabotage, so-called ‘bunkering’. Under Nigerian law, which was applied pursuant to the Rome I Regulation, the company would not be liable if the leaks were the result of sabotage. However, the court said that Shell had not been able fully to prove the causes of the spill. Although the parent company Royal Dutch Shell was not found directly responsible, the court ordered it to install a leak detection system on the Oruma pipeline, the source of several spills in the case – a finding of great interest in the ongoing debate about tort and multi-national companies..

Another case involving pipeline spills in Nigeria, Okpabi v Royal Dutch Shell, came before the UK Supreme Court last June. A previous UK case involving spills in the Bodo area was settled in 2015.

Swiss Responsible Business Initiative. Result of Sunday’s referendum

On Sunday the Swiss voted in a referendum on a proposal for extra territorial liability for Swiss companies liable for human rights violations and environmental damage committed by their subsidiaries. The proposal gained 50.7% of popular vote but only gained 8.5 of the required 12 regional majorities across Switzerland’s cantons. A majority of both the popular vote and cantonal vote is needed for an initiative to pass and so the proposal was rejected. The Swiss Parliament will now adopt the Government’s counter-proposal which is limited to reporting and issue-specific due diligence without liability rules.

The creditor in the looking glass. ‘Reflective loss’ principle confined to shareholder claims.

 

In July 2013 Marex Financial Ltd (“Marex”), obtained judgment for over US$5.5 million, plus costs of£1.65 million against various companies. Subsequently, one Mr Sevilleja allegedly procured the offshore transfer of over US$9.5 million from the Companies’ London accounts into his personal control and by the end of August 2013, the Companies’ assets were just US$4,329.48, such that Marex could not receive payment of its judgment debt and costs. The Companies were then placed into liquidation in the BVI with alleged debts in excess of US$30m.

Marex claimed damages from Mr Sevilleja in tort for (1) inducing or procuring the violation of its rights under the July 2013 judgment and orders, and (2) intentionally causing it to suffer loss by unlawful means. The Court of Appeal had found that the claims were barred by the rule against recovery of ‘reflective loss’ in Prudential Assurance Co Ltd v Newman Industries Ltd (No 2) [1982] Ch 204, noted here https://iistl.blog/2018/06/26/midsummer-blues-if-youre-a-judgment-creditor/ This laid down a rule of company law that a diminution in the value of a shareholding or in distributions to shareholders, which is merely the result of a loss suffered by the company in consequence of a wrong done to it by the defendant, is not in the eyes of the law damage which is separate and distinct from the damage suffered by the company, and is therefore not recoverable.. The Supreme Court in Sevilleja (Respondent) v Marex Financial Ltd (Appellant) [2020] UKSC 31, has now overturned that decision.

The majority concluded that the rule did not apply to claims brought by creditors of the company. Lord Reed concluded that the rule in Prudential seemed to be expanded in Johnson v Gore Wood & Co [2002] 2 AC 1, in which Lord Millett treated the “reflective loss” principle as a wider principle of the law of damages, based on the avoidance of double recovery. After reviewing subsequent cases, Lord Reed concluded that it was necessary to distinguish

“(1) cases where claims are brought by a shareholder in respect of loss which he has suffered in that capacity, in the form of a diminution in share value or in distributions, which is the consequence of loss sustained by the company, in respect of which the company has a cause of action against the same wrongdoer, and (2) cases where claims are brought, whether by a shareholder or by anyone else, in respect of loss which does not fall within that description, but where the company has a right of action in respect of substantially the same loss” [80].

Case one is barred by the rule in Prudential, regardless of whether the company recovers its loss in full, but in case two recovery is permissible in principle, although it may be necessary to avoid double recovery. The rule in Prudential did not apply to Marex, which was a creditor of the Companies, not a shareholder.

The minority also decided in favour of Marex but took a different view of the effect of Prudential. Lord Sales stated that the case did not lay down a rule that would exclude a shareholder’s recovery where, factually, the loss was different from that of the company.  The governing principle was avoidance of double recovery, as was the view of the Law Lords in Johnson (contrary to the view expressed by Lord Reed).

Although there was necessarily a relationship between a company’s loss and the reduction in share values that it causes, “the loss suffered by the shareholder is not the same as the loss suffered by the company” and there is no one-to-one correspondence between the two [132].” A shareholder ought not to be prevented from pursuing a valid personal cause of action; double recovery can be prevented by other means Even if the Prudential principle were accepted, it should not be extended to cover a case involving loss suffered by a creditor of the company.

 

An odd decision over contribution, but no need to worry.

As they used to say as often as they could in the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “Don’t panic!”

What rules govern contribution proceedings between tortfeasors? In Roberts v SSAFA [2020] EWCA Civ 926 a little boy, presumably a service child, was injured in hospital in Germany owing to SSAFA’s negligence. SSAFA claimed contribution from the MoD, alleging they were concurrently liable. The MoD said, correctly, that German law applied to the contribution proceedings and under German law they were out of time. SSAFA said yes, but then struck a remarkably nationalistic note. The English Civil Liability (Contribution) Act 1978, it argued, ought to apply to all proceedings in the English court even if the liability would otherwise be governed by foreign law: and since that said the claim against the MoD wasn’t statute-barred that was an end of it.

One decision directly in point, Arab Monetary Fund v Hashim [1994] CLY 3555, supported SSAFA; the law professors, by contrast, broadly supported the MoD. The Court of Appeal, after a lengthy analysis of the 1978 Act, came down on the side of SSAFA: on a proper interpretation the Act it, and its scheme of liability, were meant to apply to any proceedings brought here, full stop.

To put things neutrally, this blog would have been with the law professors. The decision will hardly do much for comity; nor does the result make much sense as part of a sensible scheme of private international law, since where it applies it is an open invitation to come and do some socially-distanced forum-shopping in England.

But, as we said at the beginning, don’t panic. The parties’ names in this case might well have been not Roberts and SSAFA but Jarndyce and Jarndyce: the events took place as long ago as 2000 (!). Since 2009 we have had a more sensible rule about contribution in Art.10 of Rome II, which essentially subjects contribution claims to the law governing the main tort. In just about every case you come across these days, barring outliers like this one, it will apply. Whatever else you may think of the EU, Rome I and Rome II are much better provisions than the common law rules they replaced; and even better than that, it seems a racing certainty they will they will continue serenely on post-Brexit. So litigation lawyers can pour that large gin and tonic with a clear conscience this evening.

Careful who you sell that ship to!

Safety in ship recycling has been a priority of the EU for more than seven years. Under EU Regulation 1257/2013, in force since 2018, there is a complex system of EU approval of ship recycling facilities, it being illegal to send an EU-registered ship for recycling to an unapproved facility (meaning as often as not a not-very-deserted beach in India or Bangladesh, where she is broken up essentially by hand). This Regulation is to be retained EU law post-Brexit, though from the end of this year it will be significantly narrowed, in that it will only apply to UK-registered vessels (i.e. pretty few).

But quite a lot of ship recycling is outside the regulation. A case in point was the Maran Centaurus, a vessel previously in the news as the victim of a high-profile Somali hijacking in 2009 that led to payment of a then-record ransom of about $7 million. Owned by Greek interests, at the end of her life she was reflagged to Palau and sold to a buyer for demolition, who in turn resold her to a beachside Bangladeshi concern. During demolition a worker operating in very dangerous conditions was killed. His widow rightly concluded that the demolishers were not worth powder and shot. She instead sued the owner’s managing agents, a UK company who acting under the owners’ instructions had arranged the sale, alleging that it should have been foreseeable that unless they took steps to ensure that the vessel ended up in the hands of responsible breakers she would be broken up — as she was — without any serious regard for worker safety. The agents denied fault and applied for a strikeout, on the basis that a seller of a ship owed no duty in respect of dangerous practices that might later occur in relation to her. This was not, they said, a case of damage caused by hazardous materials aboard the vessel injuring a worker: there was nothing more here than a sale indirectly to a person likely to have a less than satisfactory attitude to industrial safety.

This writer has quite a lot of sympathy for this view. But in Begum v Maran (UK) Ltd [2020] EWHC 1846 (QB) Jay J declined a strikeout, regarding it as highly arguable that, despite the vessel herself not being unusually hazardous, this was a case where the defendants had created a foreseeable risk of harm and as such potentially owed a duty of care to the worker concerned.

Note that this is not a holding that there was a duty of care: merely that the argument that there was one wasn’t a non-starter. Nevertheless, it should worry shipowners everywhere (and cause them to check on their insurance coverage). It might even extend further: for example, what of a shipowner who sells (or bareboat charters) a vessel to an operator known to have a dodgy safety record: the logic of the Maran case seems to apply here too, and if it is followed we cannot rule out liability in the seller or owner.

Admittedly the if might be a biggish one. We said that we had sympathy for the defendant’s argument. The chances are that this case will now settle so we won’t ever get a final answer here. But the defendants’ case is strong. The case for making owners responsible for policing the safety records of disponees is by no means obvious, any mote than it is obvious that in selling my car I should have to take care lest the buyer is a known drink driver. It may well be worth fighting this issue again if, as seems highly likely, it comes back to the English courts in another case.

The Alien Tort Statute on its deathbed? SCOTUS grants certiorari in two aiding and abetting cases.

The US Judiciary Act of 1789, 28 U. S. C. §1350. which is now known as the Alien Tort Statute, provides: “The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.” For nearly forty years it has been used as the gateway to bring suits in the US District Courts against individuals and corporations based on alleged violations of norms of international law.

The Supreme Court has three times considered the scope of the ATS: in Sosa in 2004 when it decided that the norms of the ‘law of nations’ had to be as well established as the three such norms in existince when the ATS was passed in 1789 (piracy, offences against ambassadors, violations of safe conducts); in Kiobel in 2013 when it decided that the ATS was subject to the presumption against extra-territorial application of US standards and; in Jesner v Arab Bank in 2018, when it decided that foreign corporations could not be subject to liability under the ATS. But what about US corporate defendants?

It now seems that there is a chance of killing off the ATS altogether, although ATS type claims could still be brought in the future as tort claims in the state or federal courts. On 2 July the US Supreme Court granted certiorari to hear appeals in two Alien Tort Statute decisions, involving claims against Nestle and Cargill alleging aiding and abetting forced labour by farmers in Côte d’Ivoire from whom they bought cocoa.

The questions presented, each of which is the subject of a circuit conflict, are:

  1. Whether a defendant is subject to suit under the ATS for aiding and abetting another person’s alleged violation of the law of nations based on allegations that the defendant intended to pursue a legitimate business objective while knowing (but not intending) that the objective could be advanced by the other person’s violation of international law.
  2. Whether the “focus” test of Morrison v. National Australian Bank, Ltd., 561 U.S. 247, 248 (2010), governs whether a proposed application of the ATS would be impermissibly extraterritorial under Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 133 S. Ct. 1659 (2013).
  3. Whether there is a well-defined international-law consensus that corporations are subject to liability for violations of the law of nations.

The third question is particularly interesting in that this is the same issue as came before the Supreme Court of Canada in the strike out decision in Nevsun v Araya in its decision at the end of February 2020. Almost all the material on this issue derives from the decisions of US federal courts in ATS cases. As they say, “If you want to know about customary international law, ask an American lawyer.” – and you will get no definite answer on this one.

Of weekend sailors, docks and marinas.

Decisions that amuse law professors often end up as footnotes in law books because they’re not very significant in the great run of things. One suspects this is true of Teare J’s erudite judgment about marinas today in Holyhead Marina Ltd v Farrer [2020] EWHC 1750 (Admlty), but it’s still worth a short note.

Holyhead marina, like most marinas, is a floating labyrinth of wooden pontoons and walkways designed to cram in as many weekend sailors’ prides and joys as it can. A couple of years ago it was hit by Storm Emma and boats moored there suffered over £5 m worth of damage. The hull insurers sued, whereupon the marina raised the issue of limitation, claiming that under s.191 of the MSA 1995 it could limit liability to a fairly piddling sum based on the limitation figure applicable to the largest vessel (yacht) that had visited it in the previous five years.

This gave rise to the first issue: the right to limit was limited to “docks”. Was a marina, an erection that floated on water rather than solid land that abutted it, a “dock” — a term that included “wet docks and basins, tidal docks and basins, locks, cuts, entrances, dry docks, graving docks, gridirons, slips, quays, wharves, piers, stages, landing places and jetties”? Teare J had no doubt that it was, despite its relative insubstantiality and lack of any connection with commercial shipping. We suggest that this must be right. True, a mere buoy or dolphin shouldn’t be a dock, but beyond that essentially anywhere where vessels can tie up and people can board and disembark should be included. It is useful to have confirmation that s.191 will be generously construed, and technical pettifogging about the definition of a dock discouraged. Insurers now know where they stand.

A few minor points. First, the hull insurers argued that Holyhead was guilty of conduct breaking limitation. Although Teare J refused to strike out this plea as hopeless, he was clearly very sceptical of it, again one suspects with reason. Secondly, the hull insurers advanced a hopeful argument that because the marina was in vhf contact with users all over Holyhead Port, its limit fell to be reckoned by that applicable to the large Irish Sea ferry that visited the port. This received short shrift: what mattered was the area of which the marina was in effective physical or legal control.

Thirdly, an interesting question: why didn’t the marina have a clause limiting its liability to the yacht owners who used it under contract? Or did it, but was it sceptical of the ability of such a clause to withstand scrutiny under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (yachtsmen being consumers)? It’s likely we’ll never know. But marinas up and down the kingdom, together with their liability insurers, might do well to look through their standard contract terms, if they wish to avoid having to argue the toss in future about an obscure provision in the Merchant Shipping Act.

Transnational corporations and tort. Crunch time in the UK Supreme Court.

Today the Supreme Court, comprising Lord Hodge, Lady Black, Lord Briggs, Lord Kitchin, Lord Hamblen, will hear the appeal in Okpabi v Royal Dutch Shell.  The issue is:

“Whether and in what circumstances the UK-domiciled parent company of a multi-national group of companies may owe a common law duty of care to individuals who allegedly suffer serious harm as a result of alleged systemic health, safety and environmental failings of one of its overseas subsidiaries as the operator of a joint venture operation.”

Previously the lower courts have found that there was no plausible case for a duty of care being owed by Royal Dutch Shell to those affected by the alleged negligence of its Nigerian subsidiary in failing to maintain its oil pipelines.

The case may turn out to be a landmark in the law of tort. In a previous decision in Vedanta v Lungowe in April 2019, the Supreme Court upheld the decisions of the lower courts that there was an arguable case that the parent company owed a duty of care to those affected by the operations of its Zambian subsidiary. The observations of Lord Briggs at [61] may prove to be important in today’s contest.

  1. [B]ut I regard the published materials in which Vedanta may fairly be said to have asserted its own assumption of responsibility for the maintenance of proper standards of environmental control over the activities of its subsidiaries, and in particular the operations at the Mine, and not merely to have laid down but also implemented those Page 23 standards by training, monitoring and enforcement, as sufficient on their own to show that it is well arguable that a sufficient level of intervention by Vedanta in the conduct of operations at the Mine may be demonstrable at trial, after full disclosure of the relevant internal documents of Vedanta and KCM, and of communications passing between them.

Kick off is at 10.30 and can be watched by video link.