A legal claim on behalf of 1 826 Zambian villagers against global diversified metals and mining company Vedanta Resources and its Zambian subsidiary Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) has been given the go-ahead by a High Court judge to proceed in the UK courts. The judgment, handed down on Friday by Judge Justice Coulson, ruled that English courts had jurisdiction to hear and adjudicate the claims of the Zambian residents, after UK-based Vedanta and KCM argued in a hearing last month against this right.
The defendants argued that the UK court had no jurisdiction to try the claims against them and that the claims against both defendants should be tried in Zambia, as the claimants were Zambian and the damage occurred in Zambia. However English law firm Leigh Day, representing the claimants, argued that, under European Union law, the claimants had a legal right to bring a claim against Vedanta. Leigh Day also argued that Vedanta should bear equal legal responsibility, given its control over its mining subsidiary, the profit it made from the mine and its alleged knowledge of the pollution.
The law firm further argued that KCM was a necessary and proper party to the claims and that there was a real risk that the claimants would not achieve justice if the claims were not tried in the UK. Rejecting the defendants’ arguments, Coulson agreed with Leigh Day, finding that it applied to group action claims.In rejecting KCM’s application and allowing the claim against them to roceed in the UK courts, Coulson found that the claims against KCM had a real prospect of success, in part because “there have been, as a matter of record, discharges of toxic effluent from the mine into the relevant waterways” and because “there is no attempt, in the evidence served on behalf of KCM, to challenge the underlying basis of the claimants’ claim against KCM”.
The judge added that the claimants were clearly very poor and could not afford legal representation. He pointed out that there was, therefore, no alternative method of funding available to them in Zambia, including through legal aid. Moreover, he noted that there was a clear lack of lawyers experienced in environmental group litigation in Zambia.
According to Coulson, evidence suggested that these sorts of claims could not be properly litigated in Zambia as there were too few similar cases that had been attempted in the country. “Given the fact that our clients continue to suffer on a daily basis as a result of what we claim is the continual pollution by the defendants’ mining operations, we hope that the the defendants will now engage in meaningful discussions and try to resolve these claims so that our clients can rebuild their lives,” said Leigh Day senior partner Martyn Day. Vedanta and KCM said they were examining the court’s judgment and considering all options, including an appeal of the court’s decision.