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My promise to provide close-to-real-time updates of the Haifa conference was derailed by my lack of a Israeli power cord adapter to charge my laptop.  In truth, Israel mostly uses the same two-pronged circular plugs used throughout Europe, but I forgot adapters altogether, and it sounds better to say that I lacked a specific adaptor unique to one small country.  In any event, I now have to convert my combined typed and handwritten conference notes to a series of blogs in lieu of live-blogging.  

I will not attempt to give a detailed narrative of everything that was said during each presentation.  Instead, I’ll give you just a few of the highlights and insights I gained from each presentation.  What follows is the first installment.  You’ll observe that my notes became less detailed as the conference went on.  Please be assured that this is not a reflection of any diminishing quality in the content, but rather a symptom of my less-than-admirable work ethic.

But don’t fear, the conference was videotaped in its entirety, so very soon you’ll be able to enjoy all of the content as if you were there in person.  Check back for updates (but by now I’m sure you’ve learned, don’t hold your breath).  For now, you can find the conference materials here.

Panel 1: Class and collective redress – Global co-operation and developments

University of California Hastings Law Professor Richard Marcus introduced a theme that would resonate throughout the remainder of the conference: the idea of US-style class actions being the “Big Bad Wolf” of collective redress procedures, at least as viewed by many in other jurisdictions considering similar procedures.  Marcus focused his comments not only on how class action practice has been changing in the US in recent years, but also on the explosion of multi-district litigation over the past 15 years.

The remaining panelists gave updates on developments in collective actions in other jurisdictions, primarily civil law jurisdictions, juxtaposing those developments against the “Big Bad Wolf”.  Professor Astrid Stadler discussed competing proposals being considered for a collective redress regime in the European Union, one proposed by the EU commission, which would cover consumer law only, and a competing proposal from ELI/UNIDROIT, which would be a general procedure not limited by subject matter.  Both proposals would include a limited opt-out procedure, where non-parties to the litigation could be bound by the outcome unless they opt out, as opposed to having to do something affirmative to opt in to the litigation.

Dr. Albert Ruda discussed collective redress for the unauthorized use of personal data in social networks, particular to developments in Spain.  He discussed a particular pending case against Facebook arising out of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.  He noted that the case will be decided under an existing statutory and procedural framework that is untested and confusing.  The court has yet to decide whether the case should be allowed to proceed as a collective action.

Professor Ianika Tzankova next offered insights about developments in the Netherlands.  She pointed out that Dutch law provides for an interesting combination of typical civil law collective redress procedures but also includes a mechanism for settlement of mass disputes that allows for class action settlements similar to those available under US law.  She described a new Dutch collective action law that has recently been passed by the legislature but has not yet come into force.

Professor Claudia Lima Marques discussed the rise of “model” cases resolution and the fall of “class actions” in Brazil.  Brazil has an existing collective action procedure, but a recently enacted law calls for issues common to repetitive cases to be identified by the courts and treated as model cases and put on a fast track for resolution, where the decision in the model case becomes binding on other cases involving similar issues.  She noted that the current law does not give any priority for collective actions to be chosen as model cases, so the effect is often that an individual litigant’s case is chosen as a model while collective actions are stayed.  A bill to give collective actions priority as model cases has failed.

Finally, following up on the “Big Bad Wolf” theme, Professor Miguel Sousa Ferro described Portugal’s collective action procedures as a “sheep in hippy clothing. . . . We’re the Prozac pill telling everyone to chill.”  Portugal’s collective action laws, Sousa Ferro pointed out, are very easy to use with no significant impediments.  A “paradise” in other words, which is why it’s amazing that nobody uses it.  This led into a more serious discussion about why collective action procedures like Portugal’s are in existence but put to limited use.  Economic viability of a lawsuit, challenges to recovering costs, and the loser-pays rule are all impediments to bringing collective actions, even when the available procedures technically make them possible.

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Editor’s note: Guest contributor David Williamson authored the following commentary on recent developments in the availability of legal aid in the UK.  Mr. Williamson is an experienced legal content writer and works for Coles Solicitors.  Although the article does not touch on litigation funding in representative actions specifically, the availability of legal aid and other sources of litigation funding is an important topic related to ongoing debate on the need for development of class actions and other representative and multi-party dispute resolution mechanisms in jurisdictions outside of the US.  Many thanks to Mr. Williamson for his contribution.

Post Legal Aid Reform: Observations since its Passing

As of the beginning of April this year, the UK ushered in sweeping changes to the sixty-year-old Legal Aid legislation; implementing heavy cut-backs and making eligibility stricter. However, how has the UK legal climate changed since its passing?  Heated dialogue seemed to circulate the issue for many months, with many claiming the changes will cripple the courts, and others arguing that they will do wonders for the British economic deficit. However, now the issue has settled down it is prime time to look at what exactly has occurred and what legacy this may leave on the broader UK legal climate.

Legal Aid Reform: In a Nutshell:

If you’re not from the UK, the chances are you are not entirely familiar the Legal Aid reforms that are holding the spotlight during this discussion. The reforms, which cut public spending by up to £350m, meant that to be eligible to claim Legal Aid, one had to prove a disposable income of around £1,000, whereas before the figure stood at a much more generous £8,000. Therefore, with such a massive decrease in the amount one needs to have saved to be eligible, the reforms are sure to have affected thousands of claimants. In fact, the government’s own figures stated up to 623,000 people could miss out on financial assistance in court, with the less well-off, working class families being the hardest hit. The areas of law targeted by the reforms were mainly clinical negligence claims, educational and employment law, immigration, private family law, divorce and custody battles and debt/housing issues.

Increase in Self Representation?

Now, though – 2 or so weeks after the cuts, what seems to have occurred as a result? Well, recently a report into legal trends and how the court process is operating since the reforms found out a curiously novel result. The answer: an increase in people representing themselves in court.

In fact, this study comes hand in hand with a release of an ‘idiots guide’ to legal representation, issued by the Bar Council. Within, the guide stipulates when one should speak, when one should stand, correct salutations and a rough guide to how to address the court. In fact, in the rather tongue in cheek guide, specific attention was paid on people not behaving like court-room lawyers they may have seen on TV. Perhaps it’s a little early to analyse the statistics thus far as to whether there has been any real rise in this sort of self-representation, however, it is certainly something to keep an eye on as it is a very real (and for many people – the only real) alternative to Legal Aid.

Pro Bono:

An alternative model of the British Legal Aid bill has been in effect in the USA for a long time now, and it is proving to be highly successful. Pro Bono legal help, especially in places like New York, ensure that solicitors pledge at least 50 hours per year to Pro Bono legal cases. With this in mind, could it not be obvious to apply this same model to the UK legal climate now there exists this apparent vacuum for Legal Aid? 

Of course, this seems like the most sensible solution but, unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like the UK legal climate has properly taken hold on this front as of yet. It is only early days so perhaps this will soon change, but thus far there have been little developments on this front. However, that being said, there is – and have been for some time – many highly qualified solicitors in the UK willing to carry out Pro Bono work, but it would seem they are greatly understaffed and rather poorly spread out across the country. A quick poll revealed that London benefits from a reassuring 59 free legal advice clinics, where as there are only 29 in the whole of the North of England, and only 3 in all of Wales.

A rather novel argument has recently been made for the case of law students and those currently in training or entry-level positions. This argument lays an obligation on these young solicitors to carry out an as-yet undetermined amount of Pro Bono work in their spare time, giving help to the reported 650,000 cases that the current system cannot support. This also raises moral questions, though; such as is it fair to make it compulsory for student who are perhaps under qualified and inexperienced take on cases which can have dire consequences on those in party to the case? And, is it fair to force these already pressured individuals to give up their free time to work for no money?

Overall, it would seem the UK legal climate has not crippled under the changes to Legal Aid legislation. The assumptions of many nay-Sayers seem to have been premature and instead of the poorest being denied all forms of legal representation, a new dialogue has emerged prompting creative changes to age-old problems. Of course, those who can afford pricey legal representation still win a much greater number of cases than those who can only afford cheaper or subsidised help. This has always been the case and the results thus far seem to suggest the Legal Aid reform in the UK hasn’t altered this as drastically as once thought.

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(Editor’s note – Revised at 6:26 p.m. MST to include link to the decision.  See below)

As reported by Jane Croft and Pilita Clark at the Financial Times and Eric Larson at Bloomberg, the Court of Appeal of England and Wales ruled yesterday that an antitrust suit filed by two shipping businesses against British Airways may not go forward as a collective action on a representative basis.    Based on the description of the ruling in the media reports, the decision seems to reaffirm the conventional wisdom that opt-out representative actions are not viable in the UK under existing procedure and that new legislation will be necessary before US-style class actions come to the UK.

Here is a link to the text of the decision, courtesy of BAILII.org 

The law firm Ashurst LLP also has a summary of the decision and related commentary available for download at its website:

www.ashurst.com/page.aspx?id_content=5559 

Check back in a few days for more commentary on this decision…

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