When Pragmatism Leads to Unintended Consequences: A Critique of Australia’s Unique Closed Class Regime

Vicki Waye, Vince Morabito


In an effort to ensure access to justice, Australian courts have fashioned a unique hybrid opt in-opt out process known as “closed classes.” The rationale that underlies closed classes is to prevent free-riding that may undercut the position of funders and class action law rms reliant upon entering into agreements with a critical mass of class members. However, multiple closed classes also pose problems for respondents seeking the comfort of nality. To secure settlement and thus ultimately bene t participating class members, Australian courts have formulated a procedure whereby the closed class is opened and nonparticipating class members are invited to either register their claims or opt out so that thereafter those who do not register and those who opt out are effectively precluded by res judicata from making further related claims. We argue that Australian courts’ support of closed classes, while driven by pragmatism, has produced unintended consequences. Many relate to the ethical dilemmas faced by class action law rms and litigation funders seeking to advance the interests of participating class members over and above those of nonparticipating class members. The Full Federal Court has recently approved an alternative common fund approach. However, questions remain as to whether Australian courts are appropriately equipped to measure and compare the alternative transaction costs associated with the current and proposed approach, and whether they are appropriately equipped to determine the commercial rectitude and fairness of litigation funding agreements. 

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