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Belgium: Class Action Lawsuits Introduced

(June 26, 2014) On March 28, 2014, the Federal Parliament of Belgium enacted a law adding a new section on “collective compensation action” to the Code of Economic Law. The new title on collective compensation action will be part of Book XVII, Special Jurisdictional Procedures of the Code. (Loi portant insertion d’un titre 2 “De l’action en réparation collective” au livre XVII “Procédures juridictionnelles particulières” du Code de droit économique et portant insertion des définitions propres au livre XVII dans le livre 1er du Code de droit économique [Law Inserting a Title 2 “On Collective Compensation Action” in Book XVII “Special Jurisdictional Procedures” of the Code of Economic Law] (Mar. 28, 2014), MONITEUR BELGE (M.B.) [Official Gazette of Belgium] (Mar. 29, 2014).) The provisions of this addition to the Code of Economic Law echo those related to class action lawsuits in the law of the United States. The new title, however, only becomes operative on September 1, 2014, and it will have no retroactive effect. (Id. Ch. III art. 4.)

Legal practitioners have suggested that collective compensation is an effective alternative to separate trials based on individual cases, which have been the only recourse available to the Belgian consumer. Adoption of the new measures has also been received as a positive first step towards reinforced consumer rights in general. (Royaume de Belgique, Service Public Fédéral Economie, P.M.E., Projet de loi portant insertion d’un titre 2 «De l’action en réparation collective» au livre XVII « Procédures juridictionnelles particulières » du Code de droit économique et portant insertion des définitions propres au livre XVII dans le livre I du Code de droit économique [Proposed Legislation Inserting Title 2 “Collective Compensation Action” in Book XVII “Special Jurisdictional Procedures” of the Belgian Code of Economic Law] (Jan. 17, 2014), at 5, LA CHAMBRE.BE.)
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The new recourse will be available to groups of consumers whose suffering can be attributed to a common source. (Code de droit économique, art. XVII.38.) The procedure governs the relationship between consumers and businesses and can be used following an alleged violation by a business of either a contractual obligation, a regulation of the European Union, or one of the laws specified in article XVII.37. (Id. art. XVII.36(1o).) The latter cover a broad range, including laws on product safety and fair competition. (Id.)

A mandatory preliminary step to the initiation of a class action suit is the appointment of a representative to represent all of the consumers involved. This representative could be, for example, a consumer advocacy group or a not-for-profit association. (Id. art. XVII.39.) This new section can potentially have international repercussions, as those who usually reside in Belgium will have the opportunity to opt-in if they declare their interest in participating in the lawsuit within a fixed period. (Id. art. XVII.38(§ 1er)(2o).)

Prepared by Jessica Ho-Wo-Cheong, Law Library Intern, under the supervision of Nicolas Boring, Foreign Law Specialist.