Hearings begin in multimillion dollar Shell lawsuit against Greenpeace

24 May 2024, London – The first hearing in Shell’s multimillion dollar ‘intimidation’ lawsuit against Greenpeace over a peaceful protest last year will take place today. Greenpeace activists demonstrated in solidarity outside the court at 10:30 this morning.

The English Admirality Court will hear arguments after Shell opposed the length of the defence submitted by Greenpeace’s legal team. In Shell’s initial complaint, the company’s legal team specifically asked that a section outlining the company’s decades-long history of climate denial and environmental destruction be removed. The section also highlights Shell’s failure to comply with a Dutch court ruling ordering a 45% reduction in the company’s carbon emissions by 2030 relative to 2019 levels.

Greenpeace’s legal team argued that sections related to Shell’s climate record are essential to explain why its peaceful occupation of a Shell oil platform was justified as a matter of human rights law. Further, they argue that Shell is only able to obtain some of the legal remedies it seeks if it has “clean hands” (has not acted improperly), and its actions as regards to climate change, including contributing significantly to climate change despite knowing its harm, demonstrate improper conduct.

Following campaigning by Greenpeace, Shell has now apparently dropped the request that sections related to its climate record be removed.

Philip Evans, Campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said: “This is a brazen attempt to drag us into an unnecessary hearing and drive up already spiralling legal costs. Shell thinks this dirty trick will intimidate us into silence, but they won’t stop us holding them to account for their climate-wrecking activities in court. 

“Climate chaos is already wrecking millions of lives, from searing heatwaves in West Africa to devastating floods across Asia. Shell’s reckless plans for massive new oil and gas projects will only accelerate the crisis. With the government missing in action, we won’t stop campaigning until Shell and the rest of the industry stops drilling and starts paying for the damage they are causing around the world.”

Admirality Court guidance allows for a lengthier defence with consent from the court. The court was willing to permit a longer defence with Shell’s consent. However, Shell’s legal team has repeatedly refused.

Greenpeace believes that Shell is tactically leveraging procedural court guidance and the significant expense of a court hearing to compel Greenpeace to exclude integral parts of its defence. Shell’s legal costs, which Greenpeace would be expected to pay should the court ultimately accept Shell’s damages claim, are expected to run into the millions, exposing the environmental group to considerable financial risk.

Shell’s lawsuit has been widely acknowledged to be a strategic litigation against public participation (SLAPP), a type of abusive lawsuit commonly brought by wealthy corporations to silence criticism. Last week, the UK Anti-SLAPP coalition, a group of leading UK media organisations, lawyers and rights groups and media organisations including Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Index on Censorship issued a statement in support of Greenpeace.

On the same day, the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE), a coalition of 118 prominent rights groups including the European Federation of Journalists,Article 19, and PEN International certified Shell’s lawsuit against Greenpeace as a SLAPP.

Shell launched the lawsuit in late 2023 in response to a peaceful protest by Greenpeace UK and Greenpeace International earlier that year, in which activists peacefully occupied a moving oil platform to protest against the climate change loss and damage caused by Shell. Shell names Greenpeace UK, Greenpeace International and the climbers who participated in the action as defendants in its claim.

Activists were calling on the company to stop drilling for new oil and gas, and start paying for climate damage that the oil and gas industry is fuelling around the world. Shell acknowledges no damage or meaningful delay was caused to its equipment, but is nonetheless demanding extensive damages.