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ANZ Customers Win High Court Hearing on Banking Fees

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May 11 (Bloomberg) -- Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. customers seeking to recoup fees they claim were illegal won a hearing before Australia’s top court to appeal a partial dismissal of their complaint, bypassing the usual appeal process.

Federal Court Justice Michelle Gordon in December dismissed complaints that charges for insufficient funds in accounts or for overdrawn bank accounts were illegal because she said they weren’t penalties. She allowed the lawsuit to proceed in relation to credit card late-payment charges.

ANZ is the first of 12 banks that IMF Australia Ltd., the country’s biggest litigation funder, planned to sue in a bid to recoup as much as A$5 billion ($5 billion) that Australian account holders paid in fees since 2005, according to James Middleweek, managing director at IMF’s Financial Redress Pty unit. Customers holding more than 249,000 accounts have registered to sue, according to IMF’s website.

“These class actions against unfair bank charges are the largest in Australia’s history,” Paul Gillett, an attorney at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers which is representing the plaintiffs, said in an e-mailed statement today. “This decision will save time, money and resources for the courts.”

In usual circumstances, a trial judge’s ruling is heard by an appeal panel, before being allowed to proceed to the High Court. In this case, the High Court agreed to bypass the federal court appeal panel, Gillett said.

“ANZ sees this as an opportunity to resolve one of the many questions in this case,” Stephen Ries, a spokesman for the Melbourne-based bank, said in a phone interview today.

The credit card late-payment charges make up about 40 percent of the A$50 million in refunds for so-called exception fees sought by ANZ’s customers, according to Andrew Watson, a principal at Maurice Blackburn.

The case is: John Andrews v. ANZ Banking Group Ltd. VID811/2010. Federal Court of Australia (Melbourne).

To contact the reporters on this story: Joe Schneider in Sydney at jschneider5@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Edward Johnson at ejohnson28@bloomberg.net

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