SLATER & GORDON AND MAURICE BLACKBURN SHOWDOWN IN BELLAMY'S CLASS ACTION

SLATER & GORDON AND MAURICE BLACKBURN SHOWDOWN IN BELLAMY'S CLASS ACTION
FIERCE rivals Slater & Gordon (ASX: SGH) and Maurice Blackburn have secured funding for class actions against Bellamy's Organic (ASX: BAL) today.

Slater & Gordon will be funded by IMF Bentham (ASX: IMF), while Maurice Blackburn is working with the newly launched Investor Claim Partner (ICP). Both are investigating a case on behalf of investors who purchased Bellamy's shares between 14 April and 9 December 2016.

This is not only a continuation of the ongoing Bellamy's saga, which has seen the company's market capitalisation plummet amid allegations of breaches of continuous disclosure obligations, but begins an intriguing battle between the nation's two largest class action law firms and their funders.

IMF Bentham is Australia's largest legal funder, and it will come up against a new firm ICP, which is founded by former IMF executive director John Walker.

Adding spice is the fact that Maurice Blackburn is currently preparing a class action against Slater & Gordon for allegedly breaching continuous disclosure obligations.

In the Bellamy's action, ICP's agreement with Maurice Blackburn commits to giving Bellamy's shareholders at least 50 per cent of any money recovered through the case after costs, while benchmark funding commissions is set between 8-25 per cent.

Ben Slade, principal at Maurice Blackburn, says his firm has long argued that greater competition would see better products offered for clients.

"We have been working closely with ICP, which focuses solely on ASX shareholder claims, and are confident that ICP's benchmark rates on offer combined with a guaranteed safety net on the recovery upon success will give our clients greater returns and peace of mind," he says.

IMF's funding provides no such agreement, but a spokesman tells Business News Australia that it has internal guidelines, and "we only want to fund cases where 50 per cent goes back to the client". In fact, in 187 cases won by IMF-funded lawyers, 63 per cent of $1.847 billion has gone to clients.

Additionally, a precedent was set late last year in the class action against QBE when a "common fund" was ordered by the Full Court of the Federal Court for the first time.

In what was called a "landmark decision", the court ordered that all class members who would benefit from the case would fund the commission costs, not just the funded class members.

The fund also gave the judge power to determine the commission rate when setting up the common fund, which could make the ICP agreement redundant.

Bellamy's is trading down 3.99 per cent this afternoon at $3.850 per share, well down on the company's 12-month high of $15.380.

Business News Australia

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