The Society has joined leading editors, lawyers, journalists, publishers and free speech organisations to call on the UK Government to back meaningful anti-SLAPP protections to defend media freedom.
In a letter to Justice Secretary Dominic Raab in November 2o22, more than 70 leading editors and industry experts called on the government to make good on its commitment to introduce robust anti-SLAPP measures and have pointed to the UK Anti-SLAPP Coalition’s model law as a means of protecting those who hold power to account.
Signatories to the letter include the Society’s Executive Director Dawn Alford as well as senior editors from leading UK newspapers and media outlets.
The letter states that events over the past year have shone a light on the use of abusive lawsuits and legal threats to shut down public interest speech and how currently “it is all too easy for such abusive legal tactics” to be used by the wealthy and powerful to shut down investigations and block accountability.
It adds: “The public interest reporting targeted by SLAPPs is vital for the health of democratic societies, including law enforcement’s ability to investigate wrongdoing promptly and effectively. This is of acute importance in the UK, which journalistic investigations have repeatedly shown to be a hub for illicit finance from kleptocratic elites.”
The letter points to the UK Anti-SLAPP Coalition’s “oven-ready” model law which it says is a solution to the problem and has been drafted in consultation with leading media lawyers and industry experts. The model law includes key components that have previously been called for by the Society of Editors including an early dismissal and filter mechanism that empowers courts to swiftly dispose of SLAPPs as well as stiff penalties to deter their use and protective measures for SLAPP victims.
The letter to Justice Secretary Dominic Raab can be found here with the model law available to view here. The Society has also welcomed in November the publication of a warning notice by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) warning solicitors against getting involved in “abusive litigation aimed at silencing legitimate critics” such as journalists and whistle-blowers. The notice follows widespread criticism that some law firms in England are enabling the wealthy and powerful to avoid scrutiny and criticism through pre-publication legal intimidation and threats to sue.