The Court of Appeal hearing will take place in London from Wednesday 5 July and is expected to finish on Friday 7 July. The judgment from this hearing will play a significant role in defining the future liability of multinational companies for alleged human rights and environmental abuses abroad.
The villagers allege that their land and livelihood has been destroyed by the pollution from the Nchanga Copper Mine owned by Vedanta Resources PLC through their subsidiary KCM. London based lawyers for the Zambian villagers, Leigh Day, will argue that the English Courts are the only route for their clients to achieve justice against the mining giants.
In 2015 the villagers took their legal action against Vedanta and KCM to the High Court alleging they are responsible for polluting their water sources and farmland for over a decade. After their claim was issued in the High Court, the Defendants challenged the jurisdiction of the English Courts to hear the claims, arguing the claims should be brought in Zambia
In April 2016, a three day hearing took place to determine the issue and in Mr Justice Coulson’s judgment, handed down on 27 May 2016, rejected the Defendants’ arguments and agreed that the Claimants had a legal right to bring their claim against the UK company Vedanta in the High Court in London.
Mr Justice 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” (paragraph 99(b)) 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” (paragraph 99(d)).
Despite Mr Justice Coulson’s robust judgment, the Defendants applied for permission to appeal which was granted by the Court of Appeal. Vedanta and KCM will try to establish that Mr Justice Coulson erred in his application of the law and that he reached incorrect conclusions on access to justice in Zambia.
The villagers are from some of the poorest communities in Zambia, one of the poorest countries in the world. They live in one or two room mud-hut structures with a makeshift thatch roof living subsistence based livelihood wholly reliant on the land.
The villagers allege they have suffered serious personal injury, damage to their property and livelihood as a result of numerous and ongoing toxic effluent discharges from the Defendants’ copper mining operations around which they live.
Vedanta is one of the largest mining companies in the world with an asset base of almost US$40 billion spread across the world.
KCM, its Zambian subsidiary, is the largest copper mining company in Africa and Zambia’s largest private sector employer with around 16,000 employees. It operates a number of mines in Zambia including the Nchange Copper Mine, which is the world’s second largest open case copper mine.
Martyn Day, from law firm Leigh Day, the partner representing the villagers said:
“The Zambian villagers are hopeful that the judgment is upheld and they can move forward with prosecuting their claims. Whilst the Defendants try with considerable force to overturn last year’s High Court judgment, the villagers continue to suffer in Zambia and this is their last hope for justice.”