New report warns: Restrictions on legal finance would leave EU businesses and consumers more vulnerable

European businesses and consumers could be left without access to a vital financing tool providing access to justice, experts warn today.

A report by the International Legal Finance Association (”ILFA”), which analyses proposed regulation on legal finance recently endorsed by the European Parliament, warns that if implemented, this could create a legal environment in Europe that would prevent many meritorious cases from being pursued.

This would be to the detriment of businesses — including startups and SMEs — and consumers alike, and it would only grant a licence for wrongdoers to continue to harm EU citizens and smaller, less well-resourced SMEs.

Legal finance provides the necessary resources in what are often lengthy and expensive legal endeavours, which empowers consumers and businesses, large and small, to seek the remedy they are due. Many funded matters are “David vs. Goliath” in nature, in which a smaller company is engaged in litigation against a larger well-resourced adversary. For EU citizens, it has helped bring cases in Europe on behalf of individuals and collective rights’ claims against a number of corporate entities.

However, in October 2022, an own-initiative report from Member of the European Parliament (MEP)  Axel Voss made recommendations which would significantly undermine the availability of legal finance within the EU.

The proposal put forward by Axel Voss MEP would make it more difficult for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to mitigate risk and keep capital in their business, and for consumers to have the necessary resources to seek redress and defend their rights. It includes the introduction of a fee cap for funders and a controversial forced disclosure provision for claimants, all of which would drastically reduce the economic viability of legal finance.

Now, experts in legal finance, collective redress, and consumer rights speak out about the dangers of the EU turning Voss’ recommendations into law. ILFA challenges the assumptions in the Voss proposals, as follows:

  • Lawmakers across EU member states are already struggling to implement the Representative Actions Directive (RAD) – aimed at strengthening the collective interests of consumers and ensuring a right to redress via representative actions. Limiting legal finance risks undermining the positive steps being made to create a collective redress regime that works for consumers.

  • Legislating the recommendations of the Voss Report would embolden large companies to engage in intellectual property (IP) theft from Europe’s SMEs. Without legal finance, Europe’s SMEs cannot defend themselves against malfeasance by multinational corporations or well-resourced Chinese companies.

  • Legal finance could be a vital component in the future battles on data, artificial intelligence, and new technologies involving analysis of complex issues and new legal concepts which will require resourcing to ensure that the EU’s “Brussels Effect” is realised. There are currently few, if any, resources available to fund meritorious litigation with scant evidence in the Voss Report that public funding or bank loans could assist.

  • Legal finance is an emerging market in Europe. The steady growth of legal finance in Europe is not only beneficial to European companies and consumers, but to the European economy.  Sophisticated and well-established investors, including pension funds and institutional investors, are continuing to see investments in legal finance as a worthy addition to their portfolios, driving important investment into the European economy during turbulent times.

Gary Barnett, Executive Director of ILFA, says: “Legal finance empowers businesses, large and small, to mitigate risk and maintain sufficient capital so they can grow and innovate. Without access to this financing, many meritorious claims, including those brought by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and consumers, would not go forward. Legal finance providers are experts in finding the most meritorious, and often important, cases that the courts need to hear and are willing to invest the time and money into issues that serve the public good.  The EU should be finding ways to increase access to this vital resource that benefits the EU legal system and its citizens.”

Prof. Dr. Ianika Tzankova, First European Chair of Mass Claim Dispute Resolution, partner at Birkway, says: “One of the big advantages of the Representative Actions Directive in my view, is that it explicitly recognises the importance of the principle of equality of arms, meaning a fair balance in the opportunities given to both parties. Legal finance takes seriously the idea that financial equality of arms is required for effective collective redress and consumer protection. In fact, without the availability of that funding source I doubt there would be any meaningful collective redress in the EU right now.”

Thomas Kohlmeier, Co-founder and co-CEO of Nivalion AG, a provider of Legal Finance Solutions in Europe, says: “The Rule of Law in Europe needs the support of funders who understand the law and are willing to share in the risk and invest in meritorious cases. The question that has not been answered to date is what happens to all those important cases that will go unheard in the courts if the special interests get their way? It seems almost cynical to restrict access to justice on the basis of unproven allegations and misunderstanding of key economic principles.”

The report is released as the deadline for European Member States to implement the Representative Actions Directive has passed on 25 June. The EU Commission will begin enforcement action against a number of member states given their failure to transpose the RAD after a two-year hiatus meaning important cases against corporate malfeasance could be jeopardised.

ILFA recommends that any further EU legislation should await the full implementation of RAD and comprehensive consultation with key stakeholders, such as consumer rights groups and SMEs Executive Agency, and ensure that any regulatory proposals are based on facts, data, and real-world experience.

Consumer rights experts are concerned that further legal finance regulation will affect the realisation of the Representative Actions Directive (‘RAD’), Europe’s first class action law.

The full report from ILFA, Resourcing the Rule of Law, is available here.

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