Call for Evidence Response on SLAPPs

Ministry of Justice written statement – made on 20th July 2022.

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Photo of Dominic Raab Dominic Raab Deputy Prime Minister, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

Today the Government is publishing its response to its Call for Evidence on SLAPPs – Strategic Lawsuits Against Public participation.

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.

For this reason, I published a Call for Evidence on 17 March 2022 inviting views on potential measures for legislative, procedural and regulatory reform. We also ran stakeholder engagement roundtables in early May, inviting evidence from legal and media professionals, civil society organisations and academics, to develop a robust policy base for reform. The Call for Evidence closed on 19 May and received 120 responses, all of which have been individually analysed and assessed.

The evidence received throughout this process has been invaluable in exposing the extent of this problem and the measures necessary to effectively combat it.

To that end, we will legislate at the earliest opportunity to enable clearer identification of SLAPPs and introduce an early dismissal process, supported by a formal costs protection scheme. SLAPPs claims that would be subject to an early dismissal mechanism would have to satisfy a three-part test, requiring a court to be satisfied:

  • that a case relates to a public interest issue, for example investigating financial misconduct by a company or individual;
  • that it has some features of an abuse of process, for example sending a very large number of highly aggressive letters on a trivial matter; and
  • that it is without sufficient evidence of merit.

I do not rule out further reform, as SLAPPs are an evolving issue affecting different areas of domestic law, as well as jurisdictions around the world. Our approach must continue to develop in a way that counters the ever-expanding threats which SLAPPs present. At the same time, while we must protect the right to freedom of expression, we will also ensure that the right balance is struck between that and the right to reputation and privacy.

These reforms sit alongside our proposals for a Bill of Rights that will reinforce freedom of speech and freedom of expression. These reforms alongside the Bill of Rights represent an opportunity to put President Putin and his cronies on notice. 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.

The response to the Call for Evidence is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/strategic-lawsuits-against-public-participation-slapps and a copy will be placed in the House library.