Update 25 January 2023. On 24 January 2023, Bob Seely MP presented an anti-SLAPP bill to Parliament, which we are encouraged to see incorporates the key components of the Anti-SLAPP Coalition’s UK Model Law. The second reading of the Defamation, Privacy, Freedom of Expression, Data Protection, Legal Services and Private Investigators Bill is scheduled for 24 March.
A model anti-SLAPP Law drafted in consultation with leading media lawyers and industry experts on behalf of the UK Anti-SLAPP Coalition and supported by over 70 leading editors, lawyers, publishers, and journalists was sent to the Secretary of State for Justice, Dominic Raab. The model law outlines how best the UK Government can fulfil its commitment, made in July, to reform the law by introducing robust anti-SLAPP measures to protect those holding the powerful to account.
Signatories to the letter calling on the UK Government to put forward legislation in line with the model UK Anti-SLAPP Law include senior editors from leading UK newspapers and media outlets including Paul Dacre, Editor-in-Chief of DMG media; Katharine Viner, Editor-in-Chief of The Guardian; Alison Phillips, Editor of The Mirror; Ted Verity, Editor of the Daily Mail; Chris Evans, Editor of The Telegraph; Tony Gallagher, Editor of The Times; Emma Tucker, Editor of The Sunday Times; Victoria Newton, Editor-in-Chief of The Sun; Roula Khalaf, Editor of the Financial Times; John Micklethwait, Editor-in-Chief of Bloomberg News and Alessandra Galloni, Editor-in-Chief of Reuters News Agency. Other signatories include prominent journalists, publishers, lawyers and experts, such as Paul and Matthew Caruana Galizia; Joanna Prior, CEO of Macmillan Publishers International Limited; Mark Stephens CBE, Partner at Howard Kennedy LLP; Arabella Pike, Publishing Director, HarperCollins Publishers; and Catherine Belton, journalist and author of the book Putin’s People.
High-profile cases – such as those targeting Catherine Belton, Tom Burgis, Elliot Higgins, and more recently openDemocracy and The Bureau of Investigative Journalism – are just the most visible manifestation of a much broader problem which has affected newspapers across Fleet Street and the wider UK media industry for many years. The model Law addresses this problem by including important amendments to the Ministry of Justice’s framework, such as a robust filter mechanism that empowers courts to swiftly dispose of SLAPPs; penalties that are sufficient to deter the use of SLAPPs and provide full compensation to those targeted; and protective measures for SLAPP victims including cost protections and other important safeguards.
Download the model anti-SLAPP law from the link below.
Tom Burgis, reporter and author of the book Kleptopia: How dirty money is conquering the world, said:
The rich and powerful from Russia to Saudi Arabia use brutality to keep their secrets secret. For too long they, along with plenty of rich and powerful westerners, have had another highly effective tool for crushing the free press: the British legal system. Now that we have realised that our courts are being abused in this way, how can we let it continue?
Catherine Belton, journalist and author of Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took on the West, said:
The slew of cases against my book Putin’s People, Tom Burgis’ Kleptopia and Carole Cadwalladr last year were just the tip of a very big iceberg. The super-rich have long viewed the UK courts as an instrument to shut down any scrutiny of their activities. The current system skews proceedings in favour of those with the deepest pockets, making it easy for the super-rich to intimidate media organisations, journalists and public watchdogs into silence and censorship. With oligarchs able to bully journalists and other public watchdogs into submission, this is a real threat to our democracy and, shockingly, it is still continuing with several more cases this year. When will the government finally take action on these vital anti-SLAPP measures to enable such cases to be thrown out at an earlier stage?
Katharine Viner, Editor-in-Chief of The Guardian said:
The abuse of the UK legal system by powerful individuals and vested interests to intimidate journalists should be a subject of national shame. The British government has taken this issue seriously for the first time in a generation, and this model law provides a clear opportunity for the government to act on its good intentions to pass legislation without delay.
Arabella Pike, Publishing Director, HarperCollins Publishers said:
Freedom of the press is a central pillar of a free society. We need more investigative reporting in this country, not less. There is, after all, quite a bit to investigate. The threat of SLAPPs has a chilling effect on UK publishers, editors, newsrooms with many stories that need to be told getting spiked or unnecessarily delayed in the thickets of legal action. We need reform. This is why I am supporting the UK Model Anti-SLAPP Law.
Caroline Kean, Consultant Partner, Wiggin said:
SLAPPs are an abuse of the UK legal system. Having defended journalists, broadcasters and publishers from SLAPPs brought by those seeking to escape accountability and scrutiny, we need to make sure the law works for everyone, not just those with the money and power to intimidate those who seek to expose suspected wrongdoing from defending themselves and to force others to refrain from publishing at all. The model law will give the court the power it needs to protect those who work to hold the powerful to account and deter those who seek to bully them into silence.
Nik Williams, Policy and Campaigns Officer at Index on Censorship and Co-chair of the UK Anti-SLAPP Coalition said:
SLAPPs threaten democracy by forcing information out of the public domain and threatening journalists, activists, academics and writers into silence. The UK is at the heart of a global movement that enables the public’s right to know to be determined and restricted by the wealthy, powerful and thin-skinned. However, with the model law prepared by the UK Anti-SLAPP Coalition and supported by leading editors, journalists, lawyers, publishers and writers we can challenge this legacy and instead lead the way in defending free expression.
Susan Coughtrie, Deputy Director of the Foreign Policy Centre (FPC) and Co-chair of the UK Anti-SLAPP Coalition said:
Two years ago, FPC’s research identified the UK as the leading international source for legal threats against journalists investigating financial crime and corruption. The ongoing war in Ukraine is a stark reminder of the devastation unchecked corruption can cause, sadly too often facilitated by the UK’s financial and legal services. Adopting a UK anti-SLAPP law would protect those trying to uncover wrongdoing – in any form – and ensure the free flow of information about matters of public interest, essential to any healthy democracy.
Charlie Holt, UK Campaigns Advisor, English PEN and Co-chair of the UK Anti-SLAPP Coalition said:
The Model Law provides a roadmap for the government to introduce robust protection against SLAPPs within the framework of its own proposals. While progress has been encouraging, the government now finds itself at crossroads: superficial tinkering with existing procedures or the introduction of serious, meaningful anti-SLAPP measures. The model law shows how the latter can be done: with a higher threshold for SLAPPs to proceed to trial; protective measures for those targeted, and dissuasive sanctions against those who file and pursue such bully tactics.
Guidance from the Solicitors Regulation Authority
Updated 28 November 2022
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has published excellent guidance for anyone in receipt of a letter from a law firm or a solicitor threatening legal action.
It is designed to be helpful to anyone subject to legal action, but it is particularly relevant ‘where the legal action or threat of action aims to suppress freedom of speech. This could include activists, journalists, academics, or campaigners.’
The guidance also clarifies the SRA position on SLAPPs and highlight the actions they can take against firms engaged in abusive litigation conduct.