Multi-Party Actions Bill 2017: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide for certain procedural and other changes in civil actions so as to provide for the bringing of Multi-Party Actions; to reduce the cost of litigation; and to provide for related matters.

Tá mé an-sásta a thairiscint inniu go dtabharfar cead chun an Bhille um Chaingne Ilpháirtí a thabhairt isteach. Reachtaíocht fíorthábhachtach a bheadh ann agus bheadh an-tionchar aige ar go leor cásanna ina bhfuil éagóir ar ghrúpa nó catagóir mhór daoine.

I am pleased to move the Multi-Party Actions Bill 2017, which is co-sponsored by Deputy Pearse Doherty. We intend to move to Second Stage during our Private Members' time next week. The legislation that will be discussed is a potential game changer in how the courts deal with cases where large categories of people are affected by a particular injustice and inequity and share a common issue of fact or law. There are numerous examples of people, including victims of the tracker mortgage scandal, defective medical products or fraud on an institutional basis, who could potentially benefit from these processes.

Currently, the only real option for such persons is for a test case to proceed and related cases to follow on the basis of precedent. Our model has significant advantages over that, with the primary benefit being it would reduce the cost of litigation, duplication and cost of representation. It would make better use of court resources and, crucially, improve access to justice. Our proposal is heavily grounded in the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission paper on multi-party litigation from 2005, which, unfortunately, has sat on the shelf since. There are many people who are the victims of injustice and who would have an actionable case, for example, in a tort or breach of contract, but the cost of taking this on makes it effectively impossible. This Bill brings access to justice within the grasp of such people.

The most current example is the tracker mortgage issue and the duplicitous, dishonest and scandalous manner in which the banks have treated the victims. The Government has essentially facilitated them in doing this. The banks have essentially taken advantage of the fact that those affected are often not in a position to take action individually because of the financial cost involved. This Bill will allow for people to proceed on the basis of strength in numbers and it will embolden many to become part of an action where previously the fear of costs may have intimidated them. This has the potential to revolutionise how cases like this are heard. We are far behind comparable jurisdictions in not having an avenue to justice like this. It could have a similar effect as processes like class action in the United States or the group legal order in the UK. We want to give those who are affected by this and other injustices the tools to take on the banks or any other institution, body or individual. We hope all parties will support this legislation and allow it pass through these Houses without delay.

I will briefly go through the sections. Section 1 is the interpretation element and section 2 provides for certification. This would be a judicially controlled process where an applicant would consult the courts service as to whether a previously certified multi-party action is relevant. When certifying, the nominated judge must consider whether it is likely there will be multiple cases giving rise to multi-party action issues and if it offers an appropriate, fair and efficient procedure for the resolution of multi-party action issues. Where certified, the nominated judge would make a multi-party action order. Section 3 governs that order and section 4 governs the process for joining the multi-party action register, which will contain the names and details of all parties taking the multi-party action.

Section 5 relates to the directions the judge may give as to the resolution of the order, including the details required in the documentation, the cause of action and any further such directions. This section offers a crucial degree of flexibility in terms of division of the various elements of the case. Section 6 relates to the lead solicitor, who would lead the multi-party action. Section 7 relates to the lead cases or case, to be agreed by case conference as to whether it adequately and fairly represents the interests of all those on the register. Section 8 relates to the effect of a multi-party order and the circumstances in which it is binding. Section 9 provides for the costs where costs shall be divided equally, unless the judge orders otherwise, and members of the order shall be jointly and severally liable. Section 10 provides that nothing in the Act shall be construed as limiting or reducing the power of any authority to make rules regarding the practice and procedures of court, provided they are consistent with the provisions of the Bill. Section 11 is the Short Title and commencement.

I encourage all parties to support this legislation and the principles therein have been supported publicly, at least in commentary, by several parties, including the Labour Party and Fianna Fáil. I hope they will support this legislation and I hope the Government will consider it as well. There is no legislation like this in the Government's legislative programme and it could make a significant difference to many people affected by a wide range of injustices and inequity. It would make a considerable difference to the manner in which our courts function.

Is the Bill opposed?

As this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.