Group litigation is a term used in the UK to describe a lawsuit where multiple parties or claimants with the same cause of action litigate their claims together. This enables a court to dispose of the claims more efficiently by hearing them all in one case. This type of litigation is comparable to “class action” lawsuits in the US.
Litigation by a group of claimants is allowed only after the court signs a Group Litigation Order (GLO). All the common issues of law and fact among the parties are set out in the order. Any party may request the issuance of a GLO, including defendants. The court may also enter a GLO on its own initiative.
To help administer group litigation, a Group Register is maintained in the Management Court, a judicial division dealing with multi-party lawsuits. The GLO is published by the Law Society, which oversees implementation of the order under the direction of Her Majesty’s Court Service (HMCS). HMCS is the executive agency of the Ministry of Justice. The mission of the HMCS is to deliver effective and efficient justice to the public.
The Law Society encourages solicitors who may think that a GLO is warranted in a case to form a solicitors group along with a litigation group, and choose a solicitor to be the lead in organizing the information and making the application for a GLO. The management of the orders is very flexible. The Law society stays in contact with the solicitors involved and answers questions or concerns about how the orders are implemented.
The group litigation process in the UK is available only in court proceedings. Enabling a single court to manage multiple claims arising from similar issues of law and fact has proven extremely useful in cases where a government agency is the defendant. For instance, there was a case in which a GLO allowed numerous taxpayers to seek damages over illegal double taxes. One of the earliest and largest orders allowing litigants to make their claims as a group involved over 200 companies.
In the US, a similar type of group litigation, the class action lawsuit, allows a group with similar or identical claims to bring an action together against the same defendant or defendants. The “class” is a group of people similarly situated in terms of the alleged legal injury done to them and must be certified by the court. US courts also sometimes allow consumer organizations or public interest groups to bring actions on behalf of all citizens affected by a government agency’s policies or rules.