Here comes a consumer revolution? European Commission mulls introduction of class action lawsuits

The European Commission has released what could potentially be a radical change to European consumer law in the form of their Green Paper on Consumer Collective Redress.

The paper proposes new legal methods for situations where a large number of consumers are mistreated by a single trader in breach of consumer law. The EU consumer commissioner stated:

“Consumers who are victims of illegal activities, such as overcharging, misleading advertising or outright scams, have a right to compensation," she said. "Currently, particularly where there are small scattered claims, this right is often theoretical because of the obstacles to exercising it in practice...There is a justice gap, a welfare gap and there are black holes in our redress system that is leaving consumers with nowhere to go. The present situation is clearly unsatisfactory. We must find a way to make the basic right to consumer redress a reality for more people,"

The paper proposes several solutions to the current problem, some as radical as exempting collective actions from court fees or putting a cap on legal fees. It also suggests public funding from European Member States.

To read the Green Paper go here: European Commission Green Paper on Consumer Collective Redress.

The Commission is accepting responses to the Green Paper until March 2009. Please read the paper above and send a response (marked - Response to the Green Paper on Consumer Collective Redress) to:

European Commission
Directorate-General Health and Consumers
Rue de la Loi 200
1049 Brussels

Or by e-mail to: [email protected]

We often complain about how ineffective the EU is but this may be an opportunity to make a real difference in our consumer lives. Currently it is too easy for merchants to abuse their legal position and intimidate individuals out of bringing complaints to the courts. The ability to have class action lawsuits for consumers would create a very real and scary threat to merchants who abuse consumer law. Admittedly, a poorly created law also creates the potential for a litigation culture (politely referred to in the Green Paper as "exists in some non-European countries") but currently the legal favour falls to far on the side of merchants.

What do you think?

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