The Society of Editors has welcomed the publication today of a warning notice by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) amid concern that some lawyers in England and Wales are involved in “abusive litigation” commonly referred to as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs).
The notice warns solicitors against getting involved in “abusive litigation aimed at silencing legitimate critics” such as journalists and whistle-blowers and 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. The Society of Editors has previously highlighted the “hidden iceberg” of pre-publication legal threats amid its call to both the government and the SRA to do more to tackle SLAPPs and hold lawyers to account for their actions on behalf of clients.
Responding to the publication today, Dawn Alford, Executive Director of the Society said: “The Society welcomes the publication today by the Solicitors Regulation Authority of a warning notice to lawyers against pursuing abusive and threatening litigation which is often targeted at journalists and whistle-blowers with the primary aim of deterring legitimate investigation and public criticism of their clients.
“The use of such legal intimidation and harassment poses a significant threat to freedom of expression and public participation and we welcome attempts to ensure greater accountability and scrutiny of organisations and institutions that continue to facilitate the use of SLAPPs against those that hold power to account.”
The warning notice follows the publication earlier this year of a package of measures by the government aimed at tackling SLAPPs. As well as reminding solicitors of the standards and regulations it expects those it regulates to uphold, today’s warning notice by the SRA also outlines some of the activities that the regulatory body would view as abusive. This includes bringing cases or allegations without merit, making unduly aggressive and intimidating threats, or claiming misleading outcomes such as exaggerated cost consequences or imprisonment in a civil claim. The notice also includes a warning against the incorrect or misleading labelling of correspondence for example citing that a letter is ‘private and confidential’, ‘not for publication’ or ‘without prejudice’.
Read the notice in full here.