A new litigation fund for public interest cases has been set up to allow claimants to proceed with cases without financial risk.
The Adverse Costs Order (ACO) Guarantee Fund, launched this week, will allow public interest cases to go ahead in circumstances where the risk of an adverse costs order would usually discourage people from pursuing a case.
The scheme has been launched by Australia-based law and policy organisation The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PAIC), which is joining forces with public litigation funders around the world.
UK-based Woodsford Litigation Funding has become the first partner.
PAIC was successful in a 2008 disability discrimination case that prompted a change in policy from Australian airline Virgin Blue.
It acted for claimants contesting the airline's requirement for people who could not fasten their seatbelt, put on an oxygen mask or put on a lifejacket without assistance to travel with a companion. Two cases, Corcoran v Virgin Blue and Ferguson v Virgin Blue, were successfully resolved by mediation and the airline changed its policy.
Steven Friel (pictured right), chief investment officer at Woodsford, said: ‘The principle that we should make a positive contribution to a just society is fundamental to our business. We are therefore proud to become the first litigation funding partner in the ACO Guarantee Fund.’
Jonathon Hunyor, PIAC's chief executive, added: ‘We hope that this scheme will grow to support PIAC’s public interest litigation into the future, facilitating test cases that otherwise could not proceed.’
A leading environmental lawyer, James Thornton, chief executive of public interest firm ClientEarth, said the new fund was a welcome development – but that the fact it was necessary was ‘less welcome’.
‘In Europe and the US, citizens do not face the burden of huge costs should they fail in court,' Thornton said.
'Justice requires access to the courts, and the UK’s system gives preferential access to the wealthy. Only a country where citizens can afford to test their rights in court will retain their loyalty.’