Call for multi-party action funding

MULTI-PARTY actions need an entirely new court procedure and method of financing, possibly from a special central government fund, according to radical proposals from the Scottish Law Commission.

The commission, in a report requested by Scotland's Lord Advocate, says the current systems are inadequate for dealing with such cases.

Commission lawyer Roger Bland says: “It is important for reformers such as us to realise that there is no magic solution to funding.

“We think that improvements in legal aid funding would not necessarily solve the problems, partly because of eligibility cuts. And so, we are inclined to move toward some sort of government funding.”

The commission calls for new court procedures for multi-party actions, and powers enabling the court to decide whether cases are suitable for it on a range of criteria.

Judges should also have extra powers to run actions. It also questions how best to notify potential plaintiffs.

It suggests various ways damages can be awarded and discusses whether only common issues of fact or law should be determined.

On funding, it proposes the setting up of a contingency legal aid fund, paid for by a levy on successful class litigants in previous actions. Alternatively, a class action fund could be used, financed by public funds.

The long-awaited report pre-dates the English Legal Aid Board's report to the Lord Chancellor this summer, which made similar arguments about the problem of inadequate court procedure.

The LAB's report followed the failure of the massive Benzodiazepine tranquillisers case, which was halted before it even got to trial, at a cost to the LAB of around u35 million.