Fair Compensation or Unjustified Temptation to Compromise?: An Empirical Review of Requests for Honorarium Awards in Canadian Class Actions

  • October 27, 2021
  • Marie Ong, articling student at Alexander Holburn Beaudin + Lang LLP, 2021 Winner of Harvey T Strosberg Essay Competition

ABSTRACT: Every class action requires at least one representative plaintiff to bring the action, perform certain litigation duties, and to represent the interests of the class members. If an action results in a successful outcome for the class, courts may award the representative plaintiff an honorarium as recognition for their contributions. The practice of approving honorariums raises significant policy issues, however. On one hand, judges have justified honorariums payments as appropriate compensation for a representative plaintiff’s service on behalf of others. On the other hand, judges are wary of encouraging the hiring of professional plaintiffs and cautious of creating a perceived or real conflict of interest between representative plaintiffs and the absent class members.

In this paper, a comprehensive analysis of the role of representative plaintiffs is undertaken to explain the divergent and unpredictable approaches to honorarium requests taken by courts across Canada’s class actions landscape. Based on an empirical review of 116 published decisions from 2010 to March 2021, this paper argues that there should be a less restrictive and more uniform approach to awarding honorariums in accordance with principles of fairness and the critical purpose of enhancing access to justice.