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Banks face more than 100 class action lawsuits

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British banks are facing more than 100 class action lawsuits in a wave of litigation that lawyers predict could cost them billions of pounds to resolve.

Research from City legal experts reveals that three of the big four high street banks — Barclays, HSBC and NatWest — are the targets of the majority of claims. Overall, five British banks, including Standard Chartered and Lloyds, are the subject of 109 class action suits, according to the researchers who drew the numbers from the banks’ most recent annual reports.

Ninety-two of the claims are being brought in US courts and six in Britain. The rest are from other jurisdictions.

Separate research published today shows that the value of UK class actions against companies for breaches of competition law increased more than six-fold in the past year. A report from Thomson Reuters shows that the value of claims rose from £4 billion in 2021 to more than £26 billion last year.

Among the banks, Barclays faces the most claims, with the report citing 41 actions. It is followed by HSBC with 31 claims and NatWest on 28. Standard Chartered is reported to be facing five claims, while Lloyds has four.

Allegations of price fixing and manipulation of interest rates dominate the claims list, accounting for 41 of the class actions. But there are also 18 claims that relate to alleged violations of US legislation covering terrorist financing.

Claims relating to price fixing of foreign exchange rates and bonds as well as manipulation of gold and other precious metals prices also form a significant proportion of the litigation.

The Libor scandal involved the alleged collusion of banks, including Barclays, to manipulate the London interbank offered rate, the terms at which banks borrow from each other.

The other significant area of class actions, US anti-terrorism legislation, involves claims that British banks processed transactions destined for terrorist organisations. In one case, claimants allege that several banks handled funds sent to Iran that were used to fund terrorist attacks on US service personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Class actions, which bring together sometimes large groups of claimants, have long been prevalent in the US, and English courts have been able to grant group litigation orders since 1999. In 2015, collective proceedings orders were created for competition disputes.

The report, produced by the City law firm RPC, says that class actions against banks are increasingly being driven by litigation-funding companies. Those businesses are often backed by hedge funds and private equity houses to fund claimants’ costs.

Simon Hart, a partner at RPC, said many of the lawsuits related to “legacy matters” such as compliance failings and market manipulation, “the effects of which the banks are struggling to shake off”. He said that a failure to fulfil commitments under environment, social and governance programmes will add to the list in the next five years.