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‘Secrecy’ fears raised in court case brought by motorists over emission tests

A spokeswoman for Mercedes said the company would mount a vigorous defence to legal action (PA)
A spokeswoman for Mercedes said the company would mount a vigorous defence to legal action (PA)

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 emission 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 live in other parts of the UK, lawyers said.

Dame Victoria Sharp, Mrs Justice Cockerill, Mr Justice Constable and Senior Master Jeremy Cook were told that Mercedes-Benz was facing more than 300,000 claims – and that manufacturers including Opel, Nissan, Jaguar Land Rover, Ford, Volvo, Hyundai, Toyota and Mazda were also among defendants in a “mammoth” legal action.

The scale of the litigation might be “unprecedented”, could go on for years and see legal costs run into “billions of pounds”, lawyers told the hearing staged in Court 4 at the Royal Courts of Justice, lawyers told judges.

Mercedes-Benz is facing around 360,000 claims, the court heard (Alamy/PA)

Manufacturers are fighting the case, and 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.

Oliver Campbell KC said, in a written case outline, that it was “already apparent” that defendants in the “Mercedes litigation” were taking an “expansive view to confidential information”.

Tom de la Mare KC said Mercedes was “insisting” there were “state secrets”.

He suggested that issues which should be aired would not be 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,” added Mr de la Mare KC.

“This court is going to have to grapple with these issues early.”

Mr de la Mare KC, who described litigation as a “juggernaut”, said it would be “fundamentally unsatisfactory” if detail of what manufacturers “did or did not do” was “kept secret”.

Lawyers representing Mercedes said confidentiality issues were not being raised on a “spurious basis”.

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.

Mr Campbell suggested that evidence considered would relate to a “sample” number of vehicles.

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.