July 5, 2017 / 3:47 PM / 17 days ago

London court hears Vedanta's challenge to Zambian villagers' pollution claim

2 Min Read

Protesters hold plaques outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Britain July 5, 2017.Barbara Lewis

LONDON (Reuters) - London's Court of Appeal began hearing legal arguments on Wednesday into whether Zambian villagers have the right to make a claim for damages for environmental pollution in the English courts against miners Vedanta Resources (VED.L) and its Zambian subsidiary Konkola Copper Mines (KCM).

The companies are appealing against a ruling in May last year when a High Court judge decided the claim could proceed in the English courts on behalf of 1,826 Zambian villagers.

"Zambia is overwhelmingly the proper place for this mass tort claim," Charles Gibson Q.C., representing Vedanta, told the court on Wednesday.

The villagers are represented by London law firm Leigh Day, which says the case has significance in defining the future liability of multinational companies for alleged human rights and environmental abuses abroad.

Earlier this year the High Court ruled that Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) could not be sued in London over oil spills in Nigeria.

Leigh Day, which is also representing villagers in that case, has appealed.

In the Vedanta case, a judge last year agreed the Zambian villagers had a legal right for their claim against Vedanta to be heard under English law and concluded the claimants were unlikely to get justice in Zambia.

"The Zambian villagers are hopeful that the judgement is upheld and they can move forward with prosecuting their claims," Martyn Day, a partner at Leigh Day, said in a statement.

Given the complexity of the legal arguments and the looming August break, it could be months before a judgement is delivered following the appeal, legal experts say.

Reporting by Barbara Lewis; Editing by Greg Mahlich

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