If you do a quick bit of googling on "class action" you get back many stories about lawsuits where groups of consumers have combined forces in order to take a corporation to court for poor products, misleading advertising and a multitude of other things. For example, last year Apple settled a class action over the misrepresentation of it's battery life. Another class action was sought against Apple for a design flaw in the iPod Nano at the end of last year as well.
Currently though, the class action lawsuit is largely restricted to the US. However there is now talk of introducing them into British law. A recent article in the The Times suggests that the DTI is thinking of introducing legislation to allow consumers to take class actions against companies. Whether such a move was a decision on the part of the Government or a move to bring it in line with the class-action culture in the EU remains debatable. It does seem likely though that an EU imperative is the driver for it.
The question is, are they a good or bad thing? Arguably there's something to be said for the class action lawsuit. In a very positive sense they enable the figurative "little guy" to take on the big corporations in a way they simply couldn't do if acting individually. However, on the flip side they also appear to encourage a compensation culture and create the perception that the first step to redress - especially for consumers - should always be the court.
Certainly business has issues with such legislation being introduced. There is the very real possibility of class actions being used to achieve political ends against certain companies. And there will undoubtedly be some campaign groups that will use the class action to serve that campaign's ends. Should any legislation be introduced one would hope it strikes a balance between business concerns and the consumers right to redress.
Personally, I think class actions do have a place in British law, but not if they become the equivalent of the ambulance chaser industry that surrounds personal injury claims.