A key part of the claimants’ argument in the massive Volkswagen (VW) group litigation will be heard at a pre-trial hearing after the High Court said that early determination on the issue could be beneficial to the main trial.

In a case management conference (CMC) yesterday Mr Justice Waksman said whether software installed in VW cars constituted a ‘defeat device’ could be determined at a pre-trial hearing. This would help speed up the case, the judge said. 

The VW claim, one of the largest group actions yet, arose out of revelations that motor giant VW fitted diesel cars with software that could manipulate the results of emissions tests. The claimants, represented by solicitors’ firms Slater and Gordon, Leigh Day and Your Lawyers, say this software constituted a ‘defeat device’. VW denies this.

Around 117,000 claimants are part of the claim, 87,000 of whom are represented by Slater and Gordon and are being funded by Therium Capital Management.

The device, which the claimants say was installed in certain diesel engines, detected when emissions were being checked under test conditions and turned on pollution controls that were not employed in normal driving.

In court Waksman J said there was a ‘real utility’ in dealing with the question of whether the software constituted a defeat device early rather than at trial.

Gareth Pope, head of group litigation at Slater and Gordon, said: ‘Our clients welcome this decision by the court. We will now get a determination as to whether the offending software in affected vehicles is an unlawful defeat device much sooner and before trial – something VW had been reluctant to see happen.’ He added that a finding that it constitutes a defeat device would have a ‘profound bearing on the case’.

‘Despite findings from around the world and the German regulator that the software is a defeat device used to cheat emissions tests, VW continues to deny that this is the case in England and Wales,’ he added. 

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, acting for VW, have been contacted for comment.