NMA Welcomes Government Action on SLAPPs

The News Media Association has welcomed action from the Justice Secretary to curb the harmful consequences of SLAPP litigation upon journalism in the UK.

NMA director of legal Sayra Tekin said: “The NMA welcomes these vital and timely measures as a first step to curb SLAPP litigation. SLAPP cases have for too long been granted an alarming degree of latitude to silence public interest journalism and legitimate scrutiny by misusing our legal system and the limited public resources of our courts.

“The legal mechanisms used to intimidate journalists and deter news publication are multifaceted and we are pleased that government is alive to the potential need for further legislative intervention to close the loopholes.

“We, therefore, urge government to legislate without delay.”

Strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPPs, involve corporations or wealthy individuals suppressing the publication of articles critical of them by initiating costly litigation against the news publisher, whereby the aim is not to win the court battle but to delay publication, so that news publishers cannot afford to continue their defence and are forced to drop the story.

The measures announced by Dominic Raab seek to pinpoint a clear identification of a SLAPP lawsuit and to introduce an early dismissal process, which will be supported by a formal costs protection scheme.

Any SLAPP claim that would be subjected to an early dismissal mechanism must satisfy a three-part test, requiring a court to be satisfied that “a case relates to public interest issue,” “that it has some features of an abuse of process” and “it is without sufficient evidence of merit.”

Mr Raab said: “SLAPPs are a growing form of aggressive litigation which seek to intimidate, silence and harass an opponent via improper use of the judicial system.

“The invasion of Ukraine has heightened concerns around the way foreign actors may be misusing the UK legal system to fund litigation against free speech in our country.”

Mr Raab announced intentions to legislate these measures at the earliest opportunity and said he did not “rule out further reform, as SLAPPs are an evolving issue affecting different areas of domestic law, as well as jurisdictions around the world.”

He continued: “We will not allow our courts to be abused to censor those brave enough to call out corruption. We will protect our free press, which is there precisely to hold the powerful to account.

“We will defend freedom of speech—the liberty that guards all our other freedoms in this country.

“Our reforms will further strengthen free speech so that those with blood on their hands and those with dirty money in their bank accounts are no longer free to hide in the shadows.”

Find the full statement here.