This groundbreaking volume of The ANNALS provides the first overview of class action laws and related mechanisms around the world. It features 30 "country reports" by leading scholars, describing the adoption, characteristics and consequences to date of class action and non-class group litigation procedures ranging across North and Latin America, Australia, Asia and Europe.
What were once seen as singular disputes between individuals (or between an individual and a corporation) are now viewed increasingly as group struggles against multinational corporations and other global institutions. This escalating trend of class actions and group litigation in private civil court cases extends well beyond the interest of lawyers. The social, economic, and political ramifications of permitting class actions are potentially vast—not just in the United States, but increasingly throughout the world, as in less than a decade the number of countries that permit representative litigation by private actors has multiplied dramatically.
The United States has led the way in these developments. Adopted by the U.S. federal judiciary in 1966, group litigation made it easier for individuals to come forward to claim remedies, including money damages, on behalf of large groups of similarly affected individuals. Class actions dramatically shift the balance of power between the "haves" and the "have-nots." Yet as this trend has grown in the United States. and has taken hold around the globe, little analysis has been done on the costs or outcomes of group litigation – and even less is known about litigants' and lawyers' choices to prosecute class actions.
There is impassioned debate over the cost and benefits of class litigation in the United States. Does it impose costs on economic factors that are larger than any benefit it creates – thereby diminishing social welfare? By placing responsibility for social reform and public policy in the hands of appointed judges or lay jurors – rather than elected legislators – does it produce outcomes that are not supported by the majority of citizens?
In December 2007, Stanford Law School and the Oxford Centre for Socio-Legal Studies organized an international conference that studied the global spread of class actions and group litigation procedures. Scholars, jurists, and practitioners from around the world gathered to discuss and debate the use of group litigation procedures and initiate a research project on the evolution of class actions and aggregate litigation worldwide.
This volume of The ANNALS is one result of that conference. Students, scholars and policymakers will find this anthology of reports to be an essential overview, providing a solid understanding of the effects of class actions around the globe.