An amendment offering specific protections in law for journalists and individuals at risk of being targeted by Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) is to be added to the Economic Crime Bill today (13 June 2023), it has been announced.
The government-backed amendment, focusing on economic crime, would make it harder for the rich and powerful to attempt to intimidate and silence critics through time-consuming and costly litigation and will include an early-dismissal mechanism.
The amendment will also look to define the characteristics of SLAPPs relating to economic crime and put the onus on the complainants to prove that their case has merit, rather than on the defendant. As part of the wider package of reforms the government has also confirmed that it will look to introduce limits on the high costs associated with SLAPPs to prevent them from being financially ruinous. The Society of Editors has previously said that a cap on costs is essential if the economic imbalance that is often such a hallmark of SLAPP cases is to be tackled.
Responding to today’s announcement, Dawn Alford, Executive Director of the Society of Editors said: “The expected inclusion of this new amendment by the government is a welcome and significant first step in tackling Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) and putting an end to the ability of the rich and powerful to weaponise and abuse the legal system to silence and intimidate their critics.
“Moving forward, it is essential that the government builds on this first step by also introducing further protections and sufficient penalties to deter the use of SLAPPs as an attractive method of intimidation.”
The Society of Editors had previously called on the government to expedite a promised package of measures to tackle SLAPPs saying that urgent reform is overdue. In November last year, the Society also joined the UK Anti-SLAPP Coalition and leading editors in calling on the government to bring in new legislation to stop the rich and powerful using the courts to intimidate journalists.
Announcing today’s amendment, Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, Alex Chalk KC, said:
“We are stamping out the brazen abuse of our legal system that has allowed wealthy individuals to silence investigators who are trying to expose their wrongdoing.
“These measures will protect the values of freedom of speech that underpin our democracy and help better protect reporters who are shining a light on their crimes.”