SRA Committed To Cracking Down On SLAPPs
Strategic lawsuits against public protection, known as SLAPPs, pose a clear and present danger to the rule of law, free speech and a free press, the chief executive of the Solicitors Regulation Authority has said.
In a piece for The Times today, Paul Philip said SLAPPs represent a misuse of litigation by the rich and powerful intent on preventing legitimate scrutiny from journalists, academics and campaigners, with common features include threatening pre-action letters and the prospect of defendants incurring ruinous costs.
He said: “The issue of SLAPPs has risen in the public consciousness since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine amid fears that they may be used by oligarchs and corporations close to the Putin regime. Some solicitors’ firms have found themselves at the centre of this public concern and been named in Parliament.
“The Solicitors Regulation Authority is aware of the focus on the role of solicitors. Its code of conduct enshrines professional duties that guard against bringing a SLAPP on behalf of a client. These include acting with honesty, integrity, independence, and upholding the rule of law and confidence in the solicitors’ profession. Equally important is the right of claimants to bring legitimate claims and for solicitors to act fearlessly in their interests.”
Mr Philip said the authority had issued guidance on how to balance their duties, warning against making allegations without merit and where the sole purpose is to discourage valid public discourse or action, and is developing further guidance, part of which will address concerns over oppressive litigation behaviour and tactics such as making exaggerated claims of adverse consequences or sending letters using an intimidating or aggressive tone or language.
He added: “We have started a review of firms that undertake litigation, examining case files to understand how and whether firms have applied our guidance to safeguard against the sort of unacceptable conduct in litigation that is seen in SLAPPs. The authority will encourage people who have been victims of SLAPPs to report the firms involved to us.
“We are committed to cracking down on SLAPPs so that genuine and appropriate scrutiny can continue, while balancing that with the need for solicitors to be able to bring legitimate claims on behalf of their clients.”