On 10 April 2019 the Supreme Court held that the courts of England and Wales do have jurisdiction over a group claim against a parent company and its foreign subsidiary for actions by the subsidiary which allegedly caused environmental damage and human rights impacts. It refused an appeal by Konkola Copper Mines plc (KCM, a Zambian company) and Vedanta Resources Plc (its UK parent) against an order allowing a group of nearly 2,000 Zambian farmers to issue proceedings in the courts of England and Wales, and to serve out of the jurisdiction on KCM. In so doing, the Court clarified key areas of tort law and of the court’s jurisdiction to hear such cases.
The Claimants seek damages for negligence and breach of statutory duty arising out of the discharge of toxic matter from the KCM mine into waterways, causing damage to their health and property. The claim against the anchor defendant – Vedanta – relies on its level of control and direction over KCM’s mining operations, health and safety compliance and environmental controls. The claim against KCM relies on the “necessary or proper party” gateway for service out of the jurisdiction.
Vedanta and KCM appealed against the decision of the judge at first instance and the Court of Appeal to allow jurisdiction. The Supreme Court rejected the appeal and held that the courts of England and Wales did have jurisdiction on the following grounds:
The judgment is here.
Tim Johnston and Professor Robert McCorquodale acted pro bono on behalf of the International Commission of Jurists and The Corporate Responsibility Coalition (CORE), which intervened to make submissions concerning the relevant international and comparative law standards relevant to the parent company’s duty of care.