The absence of an anti-SLAPP Bill in today’s King’s Speech means that a Government bill cannot be expected in the next parliamentary session, the last before the anticipated General Election. This is a significant disappointment for members of the UK Anti-SLAPP Coalition and the public watchdogs they support.
The UK Government has acknowledged the threats to free expression caused by SLAPPs. Having consulted widely they brought forth amendments to the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act, creating anti-SLAPP provisions for reporting on economic crime. They also recently established a Government-led taskforce looking at non-legislative measures to address SLAPPs. We hoped that they would now go a step further and provide for a standalone anti-SLAPP law that would provide full protections for all public watchdogs, including journalists, academics, writers, activists, victims of crime and sexual violence, or anyone speaking out on matters of public interest.
Such an initiative already has strong support. In September, over 60 editors, journalists, writers, publishers, academics and experts, including the CEOs of ITN and Pan Macmillan, as well as 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 wrote to Justice Secretary Alex Chalk KC MP to request that a standalone anti-SLAPP Bill is included in the King’s Speech. This call has been ignored, leaving free expression protections dependent on a Private Member’s Bill or the next administration after the election expected in 2024 or early 2025.
In the meantime, SLAPPs will continue to grow in number and intensity – with SLAPP litigants emboldened to file ever-more shameless claims against those seeking to hold the powerful to account.
To date, the UK Anti-SLAPP Coalition has monitored SLAPPs brought by a warlord sanctioned by the UK, a Russian oil and gas company, business leaders, political operatives, politicians and many others targeting everyone from journalists, activists, sexual violence survivors, those who post online reviews and others participating in discussions in Facebook groups, to name but a few. The absence of any Government bill in the King’s Speech leaves everyone vulnerable.
Remarking on today’s Speech, the UK Anti-SLAPP Coalition co-chairs said:
“We are disappointed that the Government has not taken the steps needed to transform their stated commitment into meaningful and statutory protections in a timely manner. As a country, we have made progress but without a robust standalone bill – one aligned with the core components of our UK Model Law – this progress will fall short of protecting everyone who speaks out. If free expression is not protected for all, it is simply not protected. The UK Anti-SLAPP Coalition will continue to work to stamp out SLAPPs.”