Bank Hur

10.22am
It cost $15m, had a cast of thousands and ran for more than three hours. The similarities between the OFT’s case against a series of high street banks over account charges and 1950s blockbuster Ben Hur are legion.


Bank Hur4 March, 10.22am

It cost $15m, had a cast of thousands and ran for more than three hours. The similarities between the Office of Fair Trading’s (OFT) case against a series of high street banks over account charges and 1950s blockbuster Ben Hur are legion.

In a fresh plot development, the Court of Appeal has confirmed that bank charges are subject to fairness rules, in a case brought by the OFT.

Now the case goes back to the OFT, which will assess whether those pesky charges actually are unfair. It’s not over yet. The court refused the banks permission to appeal to the House of Lords, but they have the option of appealing direct to the Lords themselves.

A total of 24 barristers squeezed into the High Court benches for the case, with 10 silks among them. Step forward if you please Geoffrey Vos QC from 3 Stone Buildings, One Essex Court’s Laurence Rabinowitz QC and 3 Verulam Building’s Richard Salter QC, among other titans of the bar.

Jonathan Crow QC at 4 Stone Buildings is leading a team of three juniors for the OFT. The drama only lacks a chariot race and Charlton Heston in a toga.

The law firms are stellar too, with Slaughter and May acting for Nationwide, Freshfields for HSBC, Allen & Overy for HBOS and Linklaters for the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Some taxpayers may recognise the last one on the list, mainly because they own most of it. Silks and solicitors may not cost billions – unlike the bank bail-outs – but they certainly don’t come cheap.

In reality, because the OFT and RBS are taxpayer funded, we’re all paying for the banks to defend their right to charge us more on our accounts. So the next time you see RBS-defender Rabinowitz in the Cittie Of Yorke pub opposite the RCJ, you would be quite within your rights to tap him on the shoulder and ask for a pint.

The running time of this case, which hit the High Court early last year, is a bit of a concern. There are a large number of claims by customers against banks in the county courts which are at present on hold, and which depend on the outcome of this epic. Which is sure to last more than another three hours.