BT is to be sued by the dead as part of a lawsuit alleging that millions of customers were unfairly overcharged as a result of the one-time state monopoly abusing its market dominance.
The lawsuit is a collective proceedings order authorising a claim brought on behalf of 2.3 million Britons who used to have a BT voice-only phone line. Yet included within the class of people legally permitted to join the case are the deceased – or, rather, their living “personal representatives”.
Earlier this week the Competition Appeal Tribunal ruled that former Ofcom man Justin Le Patourel, the lead claimant, could proceed with his case against the UK telco after alleging it had abused its market dominance to unfairly overcharge customers who bought standalone domestic phone lines.
Le Patourel claims that a 2017 Ofcom review found BT had overcharged its customers. That report did result in prices dropping at the time, however.
The opt-out class action will allow those who had BT voice-only landlines (i.e. not landlines that were part of a broadband bundle, no matter who provided the broadband) between October 2015 and April 2018 to try to collect money from BT.
In its most recent judgment [PDF, 42 pages] the tribunal said BT had “consented” to the inclusion of deceased customers’ UK-domiciled personal representatives in the case, on the grounds that a recent judgment in a legal matter involving Mastercard meant it was legal to do so.*
Opt-out class actions are a relatively recent introduction to UK tech law, more or less mirroring the well-known US class-action lawsuit where lawyers claim millions or even billions from companies alleged to have done something naughty. Most of the money ends up in the pockets of the lawyers and a relative pittance gets paid out to the people supposedly wronged, as emerged from the Post Office scandal’s High Court settlement.
Of £57m paid out by the state-owned institution for falsely prosecuting and jailing its own employees, just £11.5m was distributed between the 550 wronged postmasters.
Le Patourel’s case against BT continues. ®
Unusually for a UK legal case, some of the documents filed by Le Patourel’s lawyers, Mishcon de Reya, have been posted online, including the exhibits to his witness statements. It makes a pleasing change to have them freely available for the wider world to read instead of the usual tedium of journalists having to re-enact Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade to get hold of them.
*Paragraph 60 of Merricks v Mastercard before the Competition Appeal Tribunal [PDF] earlier this year set the legal precedent. There is (apparently) a meaningful difference between allowing the dead to sue and allowing the administrators of their estates to sue on their behalf.