This post has been written by Vincent Richard, Senior Research Fellow at the MPI Luxembourg, Department of European and Comparative Procedural Law.
On 14 August 2020, the Luxembourg government introduced a bill before the Parliament aiming to introduce a collective redress procedure (file 7650) into Luxembourg Law.
This objective was set out in the coalition agreement of 2018 where the Democratic Party, the Luxembourg Socialist Workers’ Party and The Greens defined the policy outline for the following five years.
The government’s intention is firstly to set up a collective redress mechanism for violations of consumer law and secondly to extend it afterwards to other areas such as environmental law, unlawful discriminations, abuse of dominant position and unfair competition.
While inspired by the proposal for a European directive on representative actions for the protection of the collective interests of consumers, the bill had been finalised before an agreement was reached by the European Parliament and Council negotiators (reported here). The text of the bill may therefore evolve to reflect the latest progress of the EU negotiations.
The collective redress scheme proposed so far is heavily inspired by the corresponding mechanisms adopted in France and Belgium. The procedure is divided into three phases with a first judgment on admissibility, a second one assessing the professional’s liability and an enforcement phase to allocate compensation.
The whole procedure takes place before the district court of Luxembourg and it can be initiated by a single consumer or a qualified entity. The first interesting aspect of the proposal is that qualified entities are not only Luxembourg and European consumer organisations but also non-profit organisations or a sectorial regulatory authority such as the banking sector regulator or the Data Protection Commission. For the action to be declared admissible, individual consumers and qualified entities must show that they have legal expertise and sufficient financial and human resources to adequately represent several consumers. They will also need to prove that a collective redress is more efficient than a typical individual action. Time will tell how much of an obstacle these thresholds will constitute. If the action is financed by a third party, the court has to verify that this third party is not a competitor of the professional and that it may not influence decisions taken by the representative. If the claim is declared admissible, the court rules on the publicity of the judgment and the procedure enters its second phase.
Judgment on Liability and Mediation
The second phase starts with a mandatory meeting between the representative and the professional where parties must decide if they want to resort to mediation. The bill is quite detailed on this mediation process which may be conducted by specially approved mediators. Mediation last six months and parties may ask the court to extend this delay by another six months. If an agreement is reached, it has to be approved by the court. If there is no agreement, the procedure continues before the court for a ruling on the professional’s liability.
This judgment on liability is a two parties’ procedure between the professional and the representative where the latter may ask for injunctive and compensatory relief. The court rules on the liability of the professional and on the criteria for the constitution of the group of consumers. As is the case in Belgium, the group may be constituted via an opt-in or an opt-out procedure. The opt-out procedure may not be used to compensate bodily harm or moral damages. Opt-out is also excluded if the group involves consumers located outside of Luxembourg which may be a significant limitation in practice. In the judgment on liability, the court also rules on the publication of the judgment, on the time limit given to consumers to opt-in or out and on the time limit given to the professional to compensate the group. Finally, the court decides whether it is necessary to appoint an administrator to handle the enforcement of the judgment.
Enforcement of the Judgment
If enforcement is not handled directly by the professional, it is conducted under the supervision of an administrator who is paid by the professional. A supervising judge is appointed to handle procedural issues related to enforcement. At the end of the enforcement process, the administrator submits a report to the supervising judge who must approve it to bring the proceedings to an end. If a consumer belonging to the group has not been compensated, the supervising judge refers their individual claims to the court.
As it stands now, the bill is rather well drafted and it could have a real impact on the Luxembourg legal landscape. Although it is hard to be very optimistic when considering the relative failure of collective redress in France, Belgium and more generally in Europe, Luxembourg may have some encouraging distinctive features. The country hosts the seats of some of the biggest companies in Europe and it features a dense network of highly creative lawyers. Besides, if full contingency fees are forbidden under the ethical rules of the Luxembourg Bar Association, success fees whereby a limited part of the lawyers’ fees depends upon the result of the litigation are possible. Third party litigation funding is also allowed in Luxembourg and expressly taken into account in the collective redress bill. The main areas of concern are, on one hand, the potential length of the procedure considering that each phase gives rise to a judgment that could be appealed and, on the other hand, the overall cost of such actions.
The bill still needs to receive opinions from the Conseil d’État, professional associations and the main consumer organisation before public debate takes place in Parliament. Readers of this blog will be informed in due course of the content of the law once it becomes final.