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First consumer class action green light welcomed by group claims lawyers

A tribunal ruling authorising Britain’s first consumer class action has been welcomed by lawyers heading group claims against car manufacturers over diesel emissions.

Posted on 20 August 2021

The Competition Appeal Tribunal certified a £10 billion class action against Mastercard, as expected following a UK Supreme Court ruling in December 2020. The ruling means that the case can now proceed to trial.

The tribunal’s ruling represents a major shift in the way consumers in the UK can bring action against business giants.

Unlike other countries across the world, consumer-group class action lawsuits are not permitted in the UK. The class action against Mastercard is proceeding under a regime introduced in 2015 which permits class actions to be brought for anti-competitive behaviour.

A class action regime permits a claim to be brought without consumers being required to actively opt in. It means the claim can be brought on behalf of an entire class of potential claimants without the need for them to choose to participate.

If the claim is successful, the remedy awarded will be available to all the potential claimants, unless they choose to opt-out.

Lawyers say that the existence of a class-action regime is one of the reasons why Australian and US based owners of diesel vehicles fitted with emissions cheating software were compensated shortly after the dieselgate scandal emerged in 2015.

In contrast, in England and Wales, diesel vehicle owners seeking redress are having to join group claims currently being brought by Leigh Day and other law firms.

Such legal cases are lengthy and hotly contested, meaning that it can take years for the matter to come before the court and a final judgment reached.

The group action launched in the wake of the Volkswagen emissions scandal in 2015 is currently listed to begin trial in January 2023. But a US federal court approved the settlement of class action proceedings brought on behalf US based owners of Volkswagen vehicles in late 2016. Class action proceedings initiated in Australia were settled in 2019 and German proceedings were settled in 2020.

The limited use of opt-out class actions in England and Wales was introduced by The Consumer Rights Act 2015 and is restricted to claims for the infringement of EU or UK competition law.

The class action against Mastercard alleges that the global payments processor overcharged 46 million people, making it Britain’s largest class-action style lawsuit, and the first claim to proceed to trial under the new regime.

Leigh Day partner Shazia Yamin leads the VW emissions group claim. She said:

“This is a landmark ruling for consumers which will undoubtedly open the door for other similar claims to be brought. It comes at a time when the Government is consulting on wide-ranging reforms to the UK consumer protection regime and has the potential to signal a major landscape change for consumer protection litigation.”

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Shazia Yamin
Emissions claims

Shazia Yamin

Shazia is a consumer law lawyer with expertise in group claims

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