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Chambers UK Bar releases Group Litigation barrister rankings

Chambers UK Bar 2022 releases new group litigation barrister rankings as claims appear in new areas such as product liability, environmental, employment and shareholder litigation.

Published on 4 November 2021
Written by Sam Williamson
Sam Williamson

An analysis of Group Litigation as a practice area in the UK legal market

Chambers UK Bar releases Group Litigation barrister rankings as the UK legal system takes another step towards US-style class actions.

In a year of heightened interest in the field, Chambers UK Bar has for the first time produced a Group Litigation table. The rankings highlight barristers who have significant experience managing group claims, whether under traditional Group Litigation Order (GLO) proceedings, or more novel collective action regimes.

The new table is now available to view here.

This comes shortly after a judgment allowing an opt-out collective action to go ahead, which has further underlined the trend towards an active class action regime in the UK. The claim, Le Patourel v BT, alleges that over several years it overcharged millions of customers by up to £500 each.

In September the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) allowed a Collective Proceedings Order (CPO) on an opt-out basis and the trial was set to be held in October.

Le Patourel v BT: legal developments in the case

On 27th September the CAT allowed a claim to proceed against BT, brought under a CPO on an op-out basis.

Traditionally mass claims in the UK have proceeded by way of a GLO on an opt-in basis: individual claimants must apply to be added to the claim. In Le Patourel v BT, the representative claimant Justin Le Patourel acts on behalf of a class of approximately 2.3 million BT customers, who are automatically added to the claim accusing BT of abusing its dominant position in the market. The media has reported that BT faces potential liabilities of around £600 million.

‘Class actions’ in the UK: key context

  • Opt-out collective actions, or ‘class actions’, have formed part of the US legal landscape for many years. In the UK, the potential to bring these claims in the courts has existed for more than two decades in Rule 19.6 of the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 (CPR). In 2015, the Competition Act 1998 was amended to allow opt-out collective actions to be brought in the CAT, too.
  • Numerous cases have tested these regimes over the years, but without decisive success at trial.
  • The Supreme Court’s 2020 judgment in Merricks v Mastercard attracted enormous interest when it rejected the CAT’s decision not to certify a huge collective action against the card company. The claim was brought on behalf of all adult consumers in the UK affected by anti-competitive practices concerning the setting of ‘interchange fees’. In August 2021 the CAT allowed the claim to proceed.
  • The CAT’s decision in the Le Patourel v BT builds on this precedent and makes class actions under Competition legislation look more viable than ever.
  • The key case on opt-out collective actions under CPR 19.6 is Lloyd v Google, a Data Protection Act claim concerning Google’s use of cookies in the Safari app. The case was heard by the Supreme Court in April 2021 and the judgment is keenly awaited. Barristers and legal commentators believe a ruling in favour of the claimants would ‘open the floodgates’ for class actions in the civil courts. Excellent news for consumers; a worrying development for many large companies.

Insights into the new Group Litigation rankings for the Chambers UK Bar 2022 guide

Interest in the Group Litigation area is far from being confined to opt-out collective actions. Numerous high-profile cases in various fields have proceeded by more traditional means and continue to do so. These include Brierley v ASDA, the leading supermarket equal pay claim, and the Volkswagen Emissions litigation, as well as a raft of claims arising from the use of PIP Breast Implants and other discredited medical products.

Whilst much of the case law on opt-out actions has emanated from competition and data protection, group claims arise in numerous practice areas including employment, product liability, environmental and shareholder litigation.

Following discussion with key market commentators we decided to bring barristers from all these practice areas together into a single spotlight table, in order to recognise the particular skills associated with the field. Those we spoke to agreed that formidable case management abilities were a key requirement, in addition to strong legal expertise – whether on the claimant or defendant side.

Interest in the new section was high: we received 18 submissions from sets and the research culminated in the ranking of 39 individual barristers. We expect to see rapid expansion in the coming years and have earmarked another 27 individuals for further investigation next year. Set rankings may follow in due course.

Please do get in touch with the Chambers UK Bar team if you would like to discuss our legal coverage of this field or if you have an idea for a new practice area for the upcoming edition of the guide.

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