the National Assembly relaunches group actions
The National Assembly voted unanimously, Wednesday, March 8, a bill to relaunch group action procedures before the courts, allowing consumers to come together against disputed business practices. It takes over from a first system launched in 2014, the results of which are judged ” disappointing “.
Initiated by the deputies of Puy-de-Dôme Laurence Vichnievsky (MoDem) and Manche Philippe Gosselin (Les Républicains), this transpartisan text was adopted at first reading and will be sent to the Senate. Partly inspired by class actions in the US, the French class action, launched by the Hamon Law of 2014, allows consumers who are victims of the same damage from a professional to come together and take legal action within approved associations.
Initially limited to consumer law, its scope was extended in 2016 to health, the environment, the protection of personal data, the fight against discrimination, then in 2018 to disputes relating to real estate rental. .
“Relative failure” of device so far
But MEPs agree on the “little success” of the device so far, light years away from the spectacular procedures in the United States. According to the bill, only “thirty-two class actions have been brought in France since 2014”, against certain practices of telephone operators, banks, real estate lessors or automobile groups. And “only six procedures had a positive result”like an amicable agreement in 2017 between UFC-Que-Choisir and Free, which compensated its subscribers for bugs in the use of 3G.
Opening the debates, the Minister Delegate in charge of the digital transition and telecommunications, Jean-Noël Barrot, gave his support to the bill, acknowledging “relative failure” of the group action so far.
The deputies Laurence Vichnievsky and Philippe Gosselin, respectively former magistrate and lawyer, had already carried out an information mission on the subject. Their text aims to simplify access to this procedure with a single legal regime and shorter deadlines. The scope of these class actions would become “almost universal”according to the two parliamentarians.
Government’s attempt to weaken the text
All damages, whether bodily, material or moral, would therefore be compensable. Their bill plans to extend the number of associations that can initiate such actions: they are only sixteen to be approved today. Also, fifty individuals could now create an association ” ad hoc “ to initiate the procedure. This threshold was 100 people before the session, but the deputies lowered it through amendments from many camps.
The government tried in vain to reduce the scope of the text on certain points. In terms of labor law, for example, the executive argued unsuccessfully to restrict group action to discrimination alone. Jean-Noël Barrot evoked, under the protests of several parliamentarians, a “little warning”THE “Risk of divesting industrial tribunals of whole swaths of litigation” or to circumscribe the role of trade unions.
Same reservation on health, where the executive is worried about a ” risk “ for medical professionals and hopes for a rewrite of the text during the parliamentary shuttle. The bill also makes it possible to reduce the cost of the procedure for the plaintiffs, with the possibility given to the judge to impose on the State all or part of the advance of the costs, if “the action brought is of a serious nature”.
No “American drifts”
Finally, it creates a new civil financial penalty at the hands of the courts, paid to the Public Treasury in the event of “fault committed deliberately with a view to obtaining an undue gain or economy”. With a ceiling of up to 3% of the turnover of an offending company.
The text received the support of all groups, even if the left asked for means to implement it.
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Laurence Vichnievsky claims a bill of “rebalancing” more favorable to consumers. But she does not want to fall into “American drifts”with lawyers who sometimes go “a bit fishing for complainants” to start business. To guard against this, the text does not enlarge “the initiative” class actions to lawyers alone, even if they will have “all their place” during the procedure.
In an opinion, the Defender of Rights, Claire Hédon, had welcomed the “advanced” of the text, by proposing “improvements”as the “Creation of a fund to finance class actions in matters of discrimination”.