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France

Author: Duncan Fairgrieve and Alexandre Biard

XI. Legislative consultations and reform proposals

A. Legislative proposals

As already pointed out, discussions have recently considered the extension of class actions to discrimination matters. Please also note that, in March 2015, French MPs proposed an amendment to the draft legislation on biodiversity supporting the introduction of class actions for environmental matters. The amendment was rejected by the National Assembly.

In 2016, the government will report to the Parliament on the successes and failures of the class action regime. This report may be a starting point for policy recommendations and could lead to possible changes in the current mechanism.

Criticisms of the current system

It is too early to draw definitive conclusions on the effectiveness of the French procedure, as it has only been operative since 2014. However, some preliminary remarks can be formulated:

-Courts: courts have been given key roles for the resolution of mass disputes. However, the management of class actions might require them to depart from their traditional practice in order to develop extensive case management techniques. For example, the management of information flows about the proceedings requires the court dealing with difficult issues such as: how should the publicity of the case be organised? What kind of information should be given? Furthermore, when acting as gatekeepers, judges must combine different interests such as the necessity to ensure victims' access to justice while keeping the case manageable. In other words, courts must be able to find the adequate equilibrium between, on the one hand, a macro justice based on the group and, on the other, a micro justice based on individual claimants. It seems that guidelines or Best practices can be useful tools to guide judges during the monitoring of class action proceedings.

-Associations: from the experience drawn from the first class actions, it appears that associations have accompanied their filings with intensive communication campaigns launched at the very first stage of the action. Some observers have warned against their associated risks of reputational costs for companies. A key additional issue regards the internal organisation of associations to deal with class action proceedings, and notably the question of their financing which remains an question that still need to be addressed.

-Companies: the detrimental effects on companies was a subject often set forth by those who were against to the introduction of class action proceedings into French law. It is here still too early to draw clear conclusions. However, it should be noted that, as a reaction to the communication campaigns launched by associations, companies tend also to progressively develop their own information strategies targeting individuals in order to avoid leaving too much space in the media to associations.

-Lawyers: the role of lawyers - and more specifically its articulation with the role associations - remains to be clarified by practice. Interestingly, the introduction of class actions in France has shown side-effects on lawyers. Some initiatives - for some of them co-organised by lawyers and sometimes controversial - have encouraged the launch of web platforms aiming at informing individuals and at collecting complaints against companies (see for instance the site: www.actioncivile.com).

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