Alan Bates calls for protection of legal funding that helped bring Horizon scandal to court

Alan Bates calls for protection of legal funding that helped bring Horizon scandal to court

Alan Bates has warned of a “concerted effort” by big business to constrain access to the kind of funding that allowed the post office operators to bring a landmark case against their former employer.

In an article for the Guardian, Bates, who exposed the Horizon scandal that has been described as one of the UK’s “greatest miscarriages of justice”, said ministers should push forward with legislation to protect the litigation funding sector.

Litigation funders give financial backing to legal battles that they calculate are likely to succeed in exchange for a share of the compensation. It allows expensive class action-style cases to be launched by people who could not otherwise afford them.

The government’s bill, which is going through parliament and applies to England and Wales, seeks to overturn the effects of an obscure supreme court ruling last year that threw litigation funding into disarray.

The Guardian reported this week that Fair Civil Justice, a campaign linked to the US and UK chambers of commerce, wrote to ministers twice in March lobbying against the legislation, which was introduced after an appeal from Bates.

Fair Civil Justice has said that it wants to stop litigation funders from collecting huge payoffs and improve oversight of the industry, and that it wants the proceeds that litigation funders can receive from cases to be capped.

Bates said Fair Civil Justice’s arguments were “nonsense” and that the group “represents the interests of big business”.

Without litigation funding, he wrote, “what has been called ‘the greatest miscarriage of justice in British legal history’ would not have been exposed”. “We would never have got to the truth, or been able to open the door to obtain the financial redress the victims are rightfully owed.”

He added: “Constraining funders by effectively reducing the number of cases they can take on might serve large corporations with something to hide. But it certainly would not be in the interests of claimants.”

Fair Civil Justice’s executive director, Seema Kennedy, is a former Tory MP who also works as a senior adviser to Global Counsel, the advisory firm founded and part-owned by Peter Mandelson.

The Guardian revealed that Kennedy wrote to Alex Chalk, the justice secretary, in March, raising concerns about his legislation and arguing that the growth in mass lawsuits in the UK was offputting to businesses.

Global Counsel declared that it was lobbying on behalf of Fair Civil Justice between October and December 2023.

A Fair Civil Justice spokesperson said it “has never proposed banning litigation funding and is not looking to stop it from taking place”.

They added: “We advocate for sensible consumer protections, including claimants getting fair compensation, and that they get paid before funders and lawyers. The justice system wasn’t designed to make outside parties rich, it’s supposed to ensure justice is delivered to those who seek it.”