UK Supreme Court rules Zambian citizens can sue mining company

The UK Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that citizens of Zambia may sue a mining company in the UK.

The case arises out of a claim by Zambian citizens against Vedanta Resources PLC, which is a company in the UUK that is the parent company of Konkola Copper Mines PLC. The latter company is the owner of the Nchanga Copper Mine in Zambia. The Zambian citizens “allege that their health and farming activities have been damaged by the discharge of toxic matter from the Mine into those waterways from 2005 onwards.”

The decision speaks to “the jurisdiction of the English courts in relation to a group tort claim.” In coming to its decision, the UK Supreme Court found that while Zambia “would plainly have been the proper place for this litigation as a whole,” the issue of access to substantial justice would allow the claim to be brought in England. The UK Supreme Court pointed out two key issues. First, it noted that funding the group claim in Zambia would be difficult because “the claimants are all in extreme poverty, because they could not obtain legal aid and because conditional fee agreements (CFAs) are unlawful in Zambia.” Second, it noted that there was an absence in Zambia of “sufficiently substantial and suitably experienced legal teams” to handle this case, especially because their opponent has more resources.