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Class actions: sample claim forms to facilitate access to justice. A case study.

Class actions and the settlements (or judgments) that bring them to an end have important legal effects on the rights of a very large number of people. They enable a consumer to obtain compensation for a group of people who, like him or her, have suffered damage. What's more, members are often required to fill in a form in order to obtain compensation. And this claim form reflects a transaction.

The more complex it is, the more complex the form will be. According to a study we conducted in 20101 , the class action forms currently in use are cumbersome, arid administrative documents with many very serious shortcomings. The lawyers who design them use language that is not adapted to the people for whom these documents are intended, and choose a design that does not facilitate the gathering and transmission of information. In short, the forms can discourage members of an appeal from filling them out.

These factors undoubtedly affect members' claim rates, and thus have a major impact on access to justice. Consequently, a significant improvement in the forms is required. We therefore set out to improve the claim forms and the perception that litigants have of them. With the help of three experts in drafting, readability and graphic design, we redesigned three forms from three consumer law class actions. They worked together to restructure the information, write in plain language and redesign the forms.

These had to comply with a number of graphic and editorial principles. In particular, they had to respect the following principles:

  • Autonomy. The form must be as autonomous as possible. Why should this be? Respondents must be able to fill it in without having to consult the accompanying documentation at every turn.
  • Respect for the form "genre". The form must be perceived as such by readers. Readers need to identify the type of document they have in front of them. This will make it easier for them to understand how to complete the tasks requested.
  • A clear question-answer axis. The content of the document must be well organized. The question-answer axis must be clear. In particular, the questionnaire should be simplified and lightened, avoiding heavy instructions. To achieve this, instructions are placed in the margin notes. This separates the instructions to be read from the questions to be filled in.

In short, the form is the central document. It acts as the "conductor" of the data collection operation, and the accompanying documents are subordinate to it. In addition, to achieve our objective, we consulted specialists in the field of class actions to obtain their point of view on the new forms developed. Finally, we presented the new model forms to Canadian consumers in four focus groups.