noyb approved as a “qualified entity” to file class actions in courts in Belgium

29 October 2020

In September, the Belgian Official Journal published a Ministerial Decree approving noyb as a qualified entity under the collective action scheme of the Belgian Code of Economic Law. This means that noyb can file representative actions in Belgium and claim damages on behalf of users of a company for the violation of various laws relating to consumer protection, including data protection legislation.

Belgium, first in line. To our knowledge, Belgium is the only country to have a specific approval procedure for consumer organisations established outside of its territory to file class actions (“collective redress”). As the first non-Belgian “qualified entity”, noyb will be able to sue companies for violation of the GDPR in Belgium, similarly to Test-Achats who already filed a lawsuit against Facebook for the violation of data protection legislation in relation to Cambridge Analytica, asking for 200 € in damages per user.

“This approval is really good news. It recognizes the work done by noyb in all European countries. Some Member States do not even have a procedure close to a class action or a collective redress mechanism. Needless to say, in these countries, consumer organisations don’t have access to courts to represent consumers collectively. In Belgium, not only do class actions exist, but they are open to non-Belgian non-profit organisations. We have the best of both worlds.” – Romain ROBERT, senior lawyer at noyb.

Waiting for the collective redress directive. The approval as a “qualified entity” is a key step for noyb before the implementation of the collective redress directive by 2022. This directive requires each EU country to provide a collective redress mechanism, which gives consumers better protection in “mass harm” situations such as Dieselgate, or Ryanair. These first-ever EU-wide rules on collective redress allow consumers to join forces across borders to prevent unlawful practices and to obtain compensation for the harm.

“We are waiting for the implementation of the Directive on collective redress, which will definitively give noyb and other consumer organizations more muscles to enforce users’ rights. We also closely follow the development of big class actions in the Netherlands for violations of the GDPR. It is a new era for digital rights enforcement!” – Romain ROBERT, senior lawyer at noyb.

Complaints before DPAs vs. class actions before courts. While noyb filed several complaints before data protection authorities in the past two years, a judicial remedy is an interesting alternative. Companies will not only face potential fines by the DPAs, but also damage claims of millions of euros which benefit users directly.

“Consumer organisations can have real leverage with representative actions: it is likely that companies will finally comply with the law to avoid big financial claims. Going to court may also be more efficient since the case does not have to go through the one-stop-shop mechanism, and the data subjects do not have to wait years before a DPA finally decides to investigate their complaint. It is a big step for EU consumers”- Romain ROBERT, senior lawyer at noyb.