US-style class actions heading for Scotland as Holyrood backs law change

General view of the Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood
General view of the Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood
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An overhaul of Scots law which could open the way to US-style “class actions” being launched have been backed by MSPs.

Groups like mesh implant campaigners could now consider a joint case to sue bodies like the NHS as part of the changes set out in the Civil Litigation Bill at Holyrood.

The change already has the backing of legal chiefs in Scotland who say it is “long overdue” while charities and human rights groups also back the move.

And MSPs on Holyrood’s justice committee have now endorsed the general principles of the proposals which include other changes aimed at making it easier for Scots pursue civil claims.

The changes set out in the Bill mean that “representative parties” will be able to bring proceedings on behalf of a group, even where that representative party is not directly affected.

It means that charities and campaigning groups could raise court action on behalf of those affected by an issue.

“The Committee welcomes the provisions in the Bill which will allow for a group procedure to be introduced in Scotland for the first time,” the report states.

“It is clear from the evidence that the Committee heard that this provision is widely welcomed.”

MSPs want the measures on group actions to be “implemented without delay” after the bill is passed next year.

Ministers are also proposing to change the rules on legal aid which would mean that those leading class actions could apply for state assistance.

Class actions have become commonplace in US law in recent decades. High-profile cases have included the action against the top six tobacco firms lodged by every US state which resulted in a $200 billion settlement in 1998 over the healthcare costs associated with smoking.

Other cases have included the $7.2bn settlement secured by investors with collapsed energy giant Enron and the $500 million won by Alaskans over the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 2001.

Cases in Scotland which could have attracted group actions include the victims of contaminated blood products in the 1990s who contracted hepatitis or Clyde shipyard workers who developed asbestosis. The current crop of women who lives have been devastated by mesh implants could also look at such an approach, although legal cases are pending over this.

Committee convener Margaret Mitchell said: “This bill will directly affect the rights of many thousands of people in Scotland, and seeks to remove some of the barriers which have prevented individuals accessing civil justice.”