By Barbara Lewis
LONDON (Reuters) - Nearly 2,000 Zambian villagers have won the right to sue Vedanta Resources in the English courts in a ruling that could lead to other multinationals being pursued in London for their activities overseas.
London's Court of Appeal on Friday threw out miner Vedanta's attempt to block the Zambians' legal action over alleged pollution of their villages.
Vedanta said in a statement it would seek the right to appeal to the Supreme Court, the highest in the English legal system, adding the decision was on jurisdiction only and "was not a ruling or a determination on the merits of the claims".
Three senior High Court judges dismissed an appeal by Vedanta and its Zambian subsidiary Konkola Copper Mines (KCM)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.
The villagers allege that their land and livelihood have been destroyed by water pollution caused by the Nchanga Copper Mine, which is owned by Vedanta through its subsidiary KCM.
London law firm Leigh Day argued the English courts were the only route for the villagers, whom they are representing on a "no-win, no-fee" basis, to achieve justice, while Vedanta said Zambia was the appropriate jurisdiction.
On behalf of the Zambian claimants, Raphael Karima, Community Secretary of Hippo Pool, a village near the Nchanga mine, said his community looked forward to "a just process".
Martyn Day, senior partner at Leigh Day, said the ruling was "a very important step forward in our clients' fight for justice".
Separately, Leigh Day is representing residents from the Niger Delta in a case against Royal Dutch Shell and has appealed against a High Court ruling earlier this year that the company could not be sued in London over oil spills in Nigeria.
That case will be next heard in November.
(Additional reporting by Sanjeeban Sarkar in Bengaluru; editing by Alexander Smith)