THIRD PARTY FUNDING – A VIABLE OPTION FOR 21st CENTURY LITIGATION (Part 1)

This series of blog articles will address the increasing viability of third party funding as an alternative to traditional litigation funding methods. It will look at how the law has developed historically and how the Court now approaches third party funding and the potential liability of third party funders.

The first part of this series will explore how the Court’s attitude to third party funding has changed significantly from the 19th through to the 21st Century.

Champerty and Maintenance

The historic position taken by the Court in respect of third party funding was that it was illegal and tortious. Two offences had developed through the common law: champerty and maintenance.

Champerty referred to when a person who did not have a legal interest in the matter provided financial assistance to litigation in order to receive a share of the profits.

Maintenance was the procurement of direct or indirect financial assistance from another in order to carry on, or defend, proceedings without lawful justification (British Cash & Parcel Conveyors v Lamson Store Service Co [1908]).

Therefore, the default position was that such agreements, which would be considered third party funding arrangements today, would be considered illegal, tortious and unenforceable. However, even at the turn of the 20th Century, the courts were willing to find such arrangements enforceable as a matter of public policy. For instance, in insolvency proceedings, which by their very nature meant that one party would need financial assistance in order to carry on or defend proceedings (Seear v Lawson (1880)), the Court found that a third party funding agreement was enforceable.

Abolition

The default position changed with the enactment of the Criminal Law Act 1967 (CLA 1967). S.13 CLA 1967 abolished the offences and torts of champerty and maintenance. S.14 CLA 1967 changed the approach of the test, which now started from the presumption that such agreements were enforceable, unless there was a valid reason as a matter of public policy.

Comment

Statutory intervention was important to provide additional certainty and security to parties wishing to enter into third party funding arrangements. However, such an approach cannot be taken for granted outside of the jurisdiction of England and Wales.

Recently, the Supreme Court in Ireland, in the matter of Persona Digital Telephony Ltd v The Minister for Public Enterprise (2017), found a third party funding agreement to be unlawful. This is because the offences of Champerty and Maintenance have not been abolished by statute In Ireland. The Court felt that it is consequentially bound to find such agreements unlawful and that any change of approach was within the remit of the Legislator, not the Judiciary.

In the next part of the series…

The next blog will take a look at how the Court has begun to develop the law in respect of third party funding, with a look at the decision in Factortame Ltd v Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions No.8 [2002].

This blog was prepared by Kris Kilsby who is an Associate Costs Lawyer at Clarion and part of the Costs Litigation Funding Team.  Kris can be contacted at kris.kilsby@clarionsolicitors.com or on 0113 227 3628.

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