Society joins over 60 editors in calling on UK Government to commit to a standalone anti-SLAPP law

Posted on: September 21, 2023 by Claire Meadows

The Executive Director of the Society of Editors has joined more than 60 editors, journalists and academics in calling on the government to commit to a standalone anti-SLAPP law in the King’s Speech.

In a letter to Justice Secretary Alex Chalk KC MP, co-ordinated by the UK Anti-SLAPP Coalition, the Society’s Director Dawn Alford joined editors, journalists, writers, publishers, academics and experts, including the editors of The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times, the Financial Times, Bloomberg, Private Eye, Tortoise and The Mirror in urging the government to enact a stand-alone law to “ensure journalists and public watchdogs are able to continue their work without risking legal harassment”.

The letter comes in the wake of the publication of limited SLAPP protections announced earlier this year as part of the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill. The government has also co-ordinated a taskforce to look at non-legislative means of combatting SLAPPs which the Society is a member of.

While the letter stated that the signatories supported the measures contained within the Economic Crime Bill, additional protections were also urgently needed to adequately protect freedom of speech they said.

It added: “We support the anti-SLAPP amendment to the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill as a significant step in the right direction to protect public interest reporting on economic crime.

“However, this amendment does not go far enough as it only covers claims relating to the “public interest in protecting society from economic crimes”…The next step must be a standalone Anti-SLAPP Bill to extend protections to everyone who speaks out in the public interest.”

Pointing to the fact that many of the cases that have been monitored by the Uk Anti-SLAPP Coalition would have been unaffected by the proposed amendment, the letter said that cases such as the legal threat from the Russian warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin against Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins and ENRC’s SLAPP action against journalist and author Tom Burgis demonstrate the need for an anti-SLAPP bill that protects everyone speaking out.

It read: ”The Government will, in its own words, “set out further legislation beyond economic crime when parliamentary time allows.” This can only happen if an Anti-SLAPP Bill is included in the King’s Speech, which will outline the Government’s programme of work in the coming Parliamentary session. This would be the last opportunity to realise the commitment before the expected general election.”