Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

UK mining giant challenges jurisdiction of Zambian farmers' legal action

UK mining giant challenges jurisdiction of Zambian farmers' legal action


Leigh Day to represent 1,826 villagers against Vedanta Resources Plc

The High Court is set for a three-day hearing that will decide whether a group of Zambian villagers can bring an action against a UK mining company that has allegedly polluted their farmlands.

The 1,826 villagers assert that their water sources and farming land were contaminated by the copper mining operations of both companies. They allege to have suffered continual pollution since 2004, causing them to become sick and lose their crops.

Mr Justice Coulson will hear arguments on behalf of the defendants, Vedanta Resources Plc, a UK mining company with an asset base of US$37bn, and its Zambian subsidiary, Konkola Copper Mines (KCM), against the jurisdiction of the English courts to try the claims.

Lawyers for the mining companies are expected to argue that the claims should be tried in Zambia, the claimants' home nation and where the alleged damage occurred.

The claimants, subsistence farmers who are among the poorest inhabitants of Zambia, will argue the claims should be tried in the English courts because UK-based Vedanta should bear equal legal responsibility, given its control over its mining subsidiary and alleged knowledge of the pollution.

The villagers are also expected to argue that there is a real risk they will not achieve justice if their claims are not tried in England. The farmers have received no assistance in Zambia during the 12 years they have been allegedly suffering from the pollution.

Represented by Leigh Day, the villagers are members of four artisanal farming communities situated in the copper belt region of Zambia along the Mushishima and Kafue Rivers.

They live close to the city of Chingola and near the Nchanga copper mine operated by KCM. Vedanta bought a controlling share in KCM in 2004.

The communities, Shimulala, Kakosa, Hippo Pool, and Hellen, claim that polluted water has affected their health, causing illnesses and permanent injuries, and devastated crops and fishing.

Lawyers from Leigh Day, who have been over to Zambia, claim that the pollution primarily stems from the copper-processing part of the plant, called the Tailings Leach Plant.

Martyn Day, the senior partner at the firm, who is representing the villagers, said: 'The claimants are desperately poor Zambians who are anxious to be compensated for all the losses and harm they have suffered as speedily as possible.

'It is clear that justice is far more likely to be achieved quickly and efficiently by the cases staying in this country.'

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