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16 February 2021
On 14 December 2020 Parliament passed the landmark Private Funding of Legal Services Act 2020. The act was published in the Cayman Islands Gazette on 7 January 2021 but is subject to a commencement order and is therefore not yet in force.
In the Cayman Islands, the doctrines of maintenance and champerty were both crimes and torts, which sometimes created obstacles for litigants seeking to enter into funding agreements with third parties to obtain financing for the litigation in return for a share of the proceeds.
Following the growing global prevalence of litigation funding (including in jurisdictions such as England and Wales and the British Virgin Islands, where maintenance and champerty have already been abolished), a flurry of applications seeking the approval of third-party funding agreements have come before the Grand Court in recent years. In recognising the growing limitations on the application of the maintenance and champerty doctrines, the Grand Court sought to confine the question of whether a funding agreement was unlawful to whether the agreement had "a tendency to corrupt public justice" and set out and applied various factors in deciding whether to approve such agreements.
Funding agreements generally fall into one of the following categories:
The act is the culmination of several years of review and consultation by the Cayman Islands Law Reform Commission, which commenced in 2015. The key sections are as follows.
Maintenance and champerty
Section 17 of the act repeals the common law offences of maintenance and champerty and abolishes both civil and criminal liability, unless the cause of action accrued before the act comes into force.
Litigation funding agreements
Section 16 of the act permits the use of litigation funding agreements, subject to the following requirements:
Contingency fee agreements
Section 3 of the act permits the use of contingency fee agreements, subject to a percentage cap of a monetary award or value of assets recovered to be prescribed in forthcoming regulations.
The attorney and client can bring a joint application pursuant to Section 4 of the act, within 90 days of execution of the agreement, for approval by the court of an agreement providing for an amount payable which is greater than the cap prescribed by regulations; however, the court cannot approve a contingency fee of more than 40%. Regulation 8 of the draft Private Funding of Litigation Regulations, which are appended to the Cayman Islands Law Reform Commission's report on litigation funding dated 30 September 2019 but have not yet been finalised or published in the Cayman Islands Gazette, provides that the prescribed percentage cap will be 33.3%.
Conditional fee agreements
Section 4 of the act provides that the success fee payable under a conditional fee agreement cannot exceed an attorney's normal fees by more than 100% unless a joint application made by the attorney and client is approved by the court. However, the total amount payable to the attorney under the agreement cannot exceed a percentage cap of the client's money judgment to be prescribed by regulations. Moreover, Regulation 8 of the draft regulations suggests that this percentage cap will be 33.3%.
In determining a joint application, the court will consider:
Section 5 of the act states that both conditional and contingency fee agreements must be in writing and signed by the client and attorney.
The legislature has recognised the changing nature of the litigation landscape and that outdated public policy concerns have circumscribed the role of litigation funders and alternative fee arrangements which are common and used to good effect in other jurisdictions.
The act has been several years in the making and builds on case law endorsing the use of regulated litigation funding in the Cayman Islands. It will give litigants greater access to justice and a wider range of funding options enabling parties to enter into agreements with funders and attorneys on negotiated terms that they consider attractive without the need for court approval (other than in cases involving the statutorily prescribed exceptions).
The act may also be of wider significance given the importance of the Cayman Islands as a financial and business hub and reinforces its position as one of the premier jurisdictions for the resolution of complex commercial disputes.
For further information on this topic please contact Marc Kish or William Jones at Ogier by telephone (+1 345 949 9876) or email (email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org). The Ogier website can be accessed at www.ogier.com.
(1) For further information please see "Third party litigation funding in the Cayman Islands: A shift in policy".
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