The UK Anti-SLAPP Coalition welcomes the establishment of a UK Government led taskforce on Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation (SLAPPs), as announced this week by Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer. The aim of the taskforce is to explore non-legislative measures to address SLAPPs. Several members of the UK Anti-SLAPP Coalition have been invited to be part of the taskforce, which will sit under the National Committee for the Safety of Journalists.
The UK Anti-Coalition, established in January 2021, has long pushed for the inclusion of SLAPPs in the UK’s National Action Plan for the Safety of Journalists. Recognition of the danger of legal intimidation and SLAPPs within the plan is crucial to support the development of mechanisms by which monitoring and reporting of this issue can take place at a national level on an annual basis through the National Committee for the Safety of Journalists.
Beyond legislation the Coalition’s members have highlighted the need for a wide range of measures to protect against SLAPPs and look forward to working within the taskforce to progress these. Coalition members, part of the taskforce, which held its first meeting yesterday, are: Index on Censorship, the Foreign Policy Centre, English PEN, the National Union of Journalists, Reporters without Borders, the News Media Association, the Society of Editors and the Publishers Association.
The UK Anti-SLAPP Coalition Co-Chairs said:
“Effective measures to protect against SLAPPs require more than legislation, and include stronger regulation as well as a wider cultural change. It is therefore encouraging to see the Government acknowledge this and seek cross-departmental as well as cross-sector collaboration that will hopefully lead to a range of supportive measures to tackle SLAPPs. Nevertheless, we still need a standalone UK Anti-SLAPP Law, that would provide an effective mechanism to dispose of any SLAPPs brought against those speaking in the public interest (i.e. beyond economic crime) and tackle the issue of high costs, which is a key factor in the success of SLAPP actions,”
Susan Coughtrie, Director of the Foreign Policy Centre (FPC)
“As a member of the National Committee for the Safety of Journalists, Index has long called for SLAPPs to be considered as part of the Government’s wider plans to improve the safety of journalists. That’s why we are so pleased to be part of the just-launched anti-SLAPP taskforce. We hope that the taskforce will complement forthcoming legislation – not only the anti-SLAPP amendments in the Economic Crime Bill but ultimately a standalone anti-SLAPP law. We hope the taskforce will help ensure that SLAPPs are more widely understood, that those affected are better supported, and that we can put a decisive end to the use of SLAPPs in the UK and beyond,”
Jessica Ní Mhainín, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Index on Censorship
“We welcome the Government’s efforts to tackle SLAPPs by creating the anti-SLAPP task-force. It is crucial to change the culture around SLAPPs by raising awareness of SLAPPs and supporting journalists targeted by vexatious lawsuits. Legislative and non-legislative measures must go hand in hand and, as co-chairs of the UK Anti-SLAPP Coalition, we continue to call for stand-alone anti-SLAPP legislation and urge the government to take action to ensure protections are made universally available, and not only for those subject to SLAPPs related to economic crime.”
Dalia Nasreddin, UK Campaigns Manager at English PEN
“The UK Anti-SLAPP Coalition has long recognised that a range of measures are required to end the threat of SLAPPs, and that steps must be taken to delegitimise the use of legal intimidation as a means of shutting down criticism. We hope the new Taskforce will deliver concrete measures to advance this cultural change and push back against the growth of SLAPPs, and look forward to supporting it in this work. Such non-legislative measures, however, can be no substitute for a robust standalone anti-SLAPP law. With our Model Anti-SLAPP Law providing a clear roadmap for how this can be achieved, there is no excuse for further delay”
Charlie Holt, European Lead for Global Climate Legal Defence (CliDef)
Coalition members involved in the taskforce said:
“The formation of this taskforce is a significant and welcome step in looking at what more can be done to put an end to the abuse of the legal process which, for too long, has allowed the rich and powerful to seek to silence and intimidate journalists, academics and authors. Alongside the need for broader legislative measures to tackle SLAPPs we look forward to working within the taskforce to address how regulatory reform as well as awareness-raising amongst judges and the wider legal profession can drive forward much-needed protections in this area”
Dawn Alford, Executive Director of the Society of Editors
“We know that SLAPPs can have a devastating impact on the journalists they target and on their ability to report freely, so it is very encouraging to see that the government is expanding efforts to combat them. While there is still a need for comprehensive anti-SLAPP legislation in the UK, the taskforce has the potential to make a really positive difference by developing complementary measures to protect journalists from such emotionally and financially costly suits,”
Fiona O’Brien, UK Bureau Director at Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
“SLAPPs pose a serious threat to freedom of speech by the rich and powerful who abuse our legal system to evade legitimate scrutiny. We welcome the government’s continuing commitment to tackling SLAPPs by setting up this Taskforce. Without urgent action, public interest journalism is at risk as the use of SLAPPs as a tool to suppress public debate continues to proliferate unchecked. The causes of SLAPPs are multi-faceted, and the Taskforce represents an opportunity for experts across disciplines to drive forward robust, non-legislative protections for journalism from the insidious chilling effect of SLAPPs in advance of targeted legislation.”
Sayra Tekin, Director of Legal at News Media Association
“This marks a significant step in tackling the scourge of strategic litigation aimed at crushing freedom of expression and the work of journalists. The NUJ has been to the fore in highlighting the impact of SLAPPs at a national level and internationally through our role in the European Federation of Journalists and the International Federation of Journalists. We welcome our inclusion on the government’s SLAPPs taskforce and will strive to secure an end to the abuse of legal processes to silence our members.
“The union has long called for urgent action needed to protect public interest journalism, including standalone legislation that the government must introduce to demonstrate its commitment to tackling the true scale and impact of SLAPPs. The harassment and intimidation of journalists must not be allowed to continue. We hope to develop a collaborative approach with stakeholders exploring measures that prioritise the safety of journalists, whilst recognising the threats posed by SLAPPs in undermining our democracy.”
Séamus Dooley, Assistant General Secretary at NUJ
“The Publishers Association welcomes the formation of the taskforce and the opportunity to contribute on behalf of the publishing industry. The impact of SLAPPs runs deeper than the high-profile stories that reach the high court, or front pages of newspapers. Too often, those who seek to publish investigative books, or academic work probing important issues in the public interest are being forced into silence. This could be through self-censorship to avoid SLAPPs, costly litigation against the author or publisher, and even threats and harassment.
This chilling effect of SLAPPs on freedom of expression affects publishers of all sizes, however smaller publishers in particular do not have the financial means of fighting deep-pocketed claimants. As such, books do not get published, and stories remain untold. SLAPPs pose a real risk to the creative and intellectual freedom of authors and publishers. We look forward to working with the wider coalition to drive much needed protections, including legislation, in this area”.
Catriona MacLeod Stevenson, General Counsel at the Publishers Association