A legal case may be brought by one person or one organisation, or by a group of people and/or organisations. This can be called as “class action“.
There are significant benefits of bringing a legal case as a group. The benefits include:
But there are also difficulties that can arise when bringing a legal case as a group. If you are thinking of bringing a group action, there are a number of things that you need to think about carefully.
In Who Can Take Legal Action?, we covered the concept of “standing” and how people bringing a legal case need to have a legal right to bring the case to court. If you are bringing a case as a group of individuals or organisations, each individual or organisations needs to have standing to be part of the group. If you try to bring a case as a group, and certain members don’t have the right to bring the case, they could be removed from the case or your case could be dismissed. That is why it is important to check everyone in your group has a right to bring case.
There are situations in which only organisations and not individual persons will be able to bring a case.
There are also situations where only certain individuals can bring a case, meaning your whole group must satisfy certain criteria.
Tensions can arise when different members of the group have different objectives in bringing a legal case.
It is important that the group’s objectives in bringing a legal case are agreed upon at the early stages. This could avoid problems later.
While bringing a legal case as a group can be a good way of getting resources, this is only the case if the members of the group are committed to the case and willing to dedicate the time and financial resources for it to be successful. If certain members of the group are not prepared to commit their share of time and resources, this can create tensions within the group.
Bringing a legal case against a powerful defendant can involve security risks (see How do I Deal with my Security?). Different members of your group may have different levels of willingness to live with the risks that a legal case can bring. One’s willingness to accept risks can depend on the financial circumstances, personality, and vulnerability of each member of the group. This applies not just to actual group members, but to witnesses, supporters, and families of group members.
Bringing a legal case with others is usually a major commitment which means working closely together over a long period of time. It also often means taking risks together. It is therefore crucial that the members of the group know each other well enough and that there is a high level of trust among them. Make each member of the case is considered and takes part in the risk analysis and security plan for dealing with risks. Everyone must be aware of the risks and how to deal with them before bringing the case.
To avoid future problems and make sure everyone is on the same page, set clear ground rules for cooperation among the members of the group bringing the case.
Practical Tip: What Should I Include in the Rules of Cooperation?
The rules should cover issues such as:
- How is the group governed?
- Who chairs the group or is on management or steering committee?
- How are decisions taken?
- Who will manage the finances and do the financial paperwork?
- How does communication within the group work?
- How does the group’s external communication with the media and the public about the case work?
- How will the group appoint a lawyer?
- How does communication with the lawyer(s) and representative(s) arguing the case work?
- Who gives the instructions?
- How does communication with the opponent in the case work?
- Is it done only through the lawyer(s) or representatives arguing the case, or also by members of the group?
- If so, by which ones?
- How far does the group want to go?
- Will it accept an offer to settle the case, or does it want to fight the case to the end?
- Will it use all the available appeals?
- If the case is lost and the court orders the group to pay for the opponent’s legal costs, how will these costs be shared within the group?
- Will this sharing apply even if the court order mentions a different division of the costs?
- How will the group store sensitive information? (see How do I Protect my Information?)
- How will the group deal with security risks? (see How do I Deal with Security?)
If there are many lawyers and representatives arguing the case, group dynamics can be complicated. It is important to think about the issues that could arise beforehand.
The following story shows what can go wrong;
Some examples of tensions that could arise in this group are:
Think about the possible tensions and disagreements that could arise in your case. Pay particular attention to these when making a set of ground rules for cooperation.