Judges hearing claims made in wake of ‘dieselgate’ told of secrecy concerns
The High Court has heard allegations that ‘defeat devices’ were fitted to diesel vehicles to get round emissions tests.
Lawyers representing motorists making damages claims in “juggernaut” High Court litigation launched following allegations that “defeat devices” were fitted to diesel vehicles to get round emissions tests have told judges they have concerns about secrecy.
Car makers are dealing with more than 1.2 million compensation claims in the wake of the 2015 “dieselgate” emissions “scandal”, four judges overseeing a pre-trial hearing in London heard on Friday.
Most claimants are based in England or Wales – although some lived in other parts of the UK, lawyers said.
The scale of the litigation might be “unprecedented”, may run on for years, and legal costs could run into “billions of pounds”, lawyers told the hearing – staged in Court 4 at the Royal Courts of Justice, lawyers told judges.
Manufacturers are fighting the case – a spokeswoman for Mercedes, which is facing most claims, said the company would mount a vigorous defence.
Barristers representing claimants said judges were going to have to “grapple” with issues relating to the “confidentiality” of manufacturers’ documents.
Tom de la Mare KC said Mercedes was “insisting” there were “state secrets”.
He suggested that issues which should be aired would not be aired because some hearings would have to be staged in private.
“There is the greatest public interest in the fullest reporting of the conduct in question,” Mr de la Mare said.
“This court is going to have to grapple with these issues early.”
Mr de la Mare, who described litigation as “juggernaut”, said it would be “fundamentally unsatisfactory” if detail of what manufacturers “did or did not do” was “kept secret”.
They said some vehicle technology was subject to confidentiality.
The four judges considered issues relating to the management of the litigation and the timetabling of further hearings.
They heard that further issues were scheduled to take place in 2024 and 2025.
Mr Campbell told judges that there were 1.25 million claimants and about 1,500 defendants, once dealerships were included.
He suggested that the Mercedes case could be the “lead” case.
The Mercedes case involved a “wide range” of “defeat devices”, he said.
Lawyers representing some manufacturers told judges, in a written case outline: “In short, it is plain that, unless properly and carefully managed, it is no exaggeration to say that resolving the … litigation will cost billions of pounds.”
One barrister, Leigh-Ann Mulcahy KC, described the litigation as “mammoth” and possibly on an “unprecedented scale” and said there issues relating to what a “defeat device” was.
It is the latest legal development in the aftermath of the “dieselgate” emissions scandal.
In 2022, Volkswagen agreed to pay £193 million to more than 90,000 vehicle owners after it settled a group claim for compensation brought in the wake of emissions-testing revelations about eight years ago.