Lords Committee calls for action on SLAPPs
26 January 2023
The Communications and Digital Committee writes to the Ministry of Justice, HM Treasury and DCMS calling for action to tackle the use of SLAPPs (strategic litigation against public participation) by wealthy individuals to silence their critics, a process also known as “lawfare”.
- Letter from the Chair to Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer dated 26 January 2023
- Letter from the Chair to Rt Hon Dominic Raab MP, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Ministry of Justice and Rt Hon Michelle Donelan MP, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, dated 26 January 2023
- Communications and Digital Committee
SLAPPs involve the use or threat of legal action to silence, intimidate or harass critics. The Communications and Digital Committee calls for explanations from the Treasury over how the head of a Russian paramilitary group was granted an official licence to pursue legal action against a UK journalist, despite being subject to official sanctions.
The Committee also calls for more action to tackle SLAPPs and support those facing them. Priorities include:
- SLAPPs to be included in the National Action Plan for the Safety of Journalists, to provide a mechanism for reporting issues and receiving advice and support.
- A SLAPPs defence fund, paid for in part by those pursuing SLAPP cases. This could involve using fines levied by the regulator, or enabling a court to order SLAPP claimants to contribute to the defence fund.
- Greater action from the regulator, which the committee noted had “not provided a sufficient deterrent” against SLAPPs so far.
- Increasing the regulator’s “inadequate” fining powers from £25,000 to £250 million, in line with its fining powers for other issues.
- Increasing oversight of the relationship between law firms and ‘black PR’ and private intelligence organisations, which may be used as part of a SLAPP case to monitor and intimidate journalists.
- Closing money laundering loopholes which currently have limited application to the payment for legal advice. The committee noted this was “ironic” as money laundering is itself often a subject of investigative journalism, and the illegitimate funding could be used to pay law firms to silence journalists’ investigations into such activities.
Committee chair Baroness Stowell of Beeston said:
“The current level of activity to tackle SLAPPs is wholly inadequate. The regulator is not properly equipped with the powers necessary to deter law firms against abusive practices. But it needs to demonstrate greater boldness in holding law firms to account to inspire greater confidence. The decent law firms will stand to gain from a strong regulator, and should support the Solicitors Regulation Authority in being much more proactive and open in their investigations and penalties.
"Meanwhile the Treasury is apparently helping sanctioned Russian paramilitary owners pursue libel cases against UK journalists. We have called for clarity on how this was allowed to happen and how we can ensure it never happens again.”