The UK Anti-SLAPP Coalition welcomes the new Government and calls on them to finish the work stamping out SLAPPs

Jul 11, 2024 | News

Photo Credit: Number 10

Following the UK General Election on 4 July 2024, the co-chairs of the UK Anti-SLAPP Coalition have today written to the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Justice, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and the Foreign Secretary welcoming them to Government and calling on them to bring forward a robust standalone Anti-SLAPP Law.

The decision by the previous Government to call the election signalled the death of the Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation Bill (SLAPP Bill) brought forward by the former Labour MP Wayne David. While flawed, the Bill offered something that could be amended and strengthened. This letter calls on the Government to capitalise on the cross-party support for stamping out SLAPPs and build on the progress made to ensure free expression is protected.

Read the letter below:


Rt. Hon. Sir Keir Starmer MP, Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury

Rt. Hon. Ms. Shabana Mahmood MP, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

Rt. Hon. Ms Lisa Nandy MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

Rt. Hon. Mr David Lammy MP, Foreign Secretary

Thursday 11 July 2024

Dear Prime Minister,

On behalf of the UK Anti-SLAPP Coalition we would like to welcome you to Government. While we appreciate there are many challenges and priorities that face your administration, we would like to ask that a standalone anti-SLAPP Law be included in next week’s King’s Speech with a view to ensuring effective protections are in place as soon as possible. We believe this is a crucial step for the democratic health of our country.

Attempts by the previous government to stamp out Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs), latterly through supporting the Private Members’ Bill brought forward by the Labour MP Wayne David, were ultimately defeated due to limited legislative time after the election was called. However, one thing was clear: there is strong cross-party support to tackle SLAPPs. This is therefore fertile soil for your new administration to finish the job to protect public interest speech from those seeking to undermine British courts and block scrutiny and accountability.  

As you will be aware, SLAPPs have been used to target journalists to silence their public interest reporting. We also welcome the recognition, recently voiced by Rt. Hon. David Lammy MP, of the importance of stopping SLAPPs as part of a wider clampdown on the UK’s role in facilitating financial crime and corruption. However, the UK Anti-SLAPP Coalition has also monitored threats that extend further across British society. Targets range from sexual violence survivors speaking out after the police or the CPS have refused to bring criminal charges, patients of healthcare services posting reviews to highlight concerns regarding their care, as well as members of the public scrutinising a wide variety of services they have received. Few aspects of society are untouched. Not only does this impact the person threatened, it also undermines broader society by removing information from the public domain, a vital prerequisite for informed decision-making and democratic participation. 

At the moment, judges and courts do not have the necessary support and powers to discard SLAPPs at an early stage. To rebuild trust in the court system this needs to change. This is why the UK Anti-SLAPP Coalition has long called for a robust standalone Anti-SLAPP Law to establish universal protections against SLAPPs. This would allow courts to discard threats at an early stage using a clear objective test to identify a SLAPP, cap costs to allow defendants to be able to defend themselves, while also punishing those seeking to silence public interest speech. This would send a clear message that the UK values and actively defends free expression, while also protecting British courts from abuse. 

Thanks to the progress already made on this important issue we now have a road map for meaningful anti-SLAPP reform. The scrutiny of, and subsequent amendments to, the text of the SLAPP Bill prepared in the last parliament highlighted outstanding gaps and flaws, which would need to be addressed to improve and strengthen the draft bill. Using this and the Model Anti-SLAPP Law, we believe that a meaningful and robust anti-SLAPP Law could readily be brought forward. 

Moreover, the amendments made to the draft SLAPP Bill highlight similar, pre-existing flaws in the anti-SLAPP provisions adopted in the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act in October 2023. As we await their implementation into civil law procedures, the swift introduction of a new standalone anti-SLAPP Law, which would supersede these flawed provisions, would relieve concerns in this area and create certainty as to the UK’s course to address this issue.  

We would also like to note that we were members of the SLAPPs taskforce, which sat within the framework of the National Committee for Safety of Journalists and was convened by the DCMS. We would welcome the renewal of the taskforce’s mandate, as well as a commitment to ensure it is a meaningful forum for information sharing and action.

We stand ready to support you and your teams. We would be happy to organise a meeting at a time convenient for you to explore and discuss this issue in more detail.

Kind regards,

UK Anti-SLAPP Coalition co-chairs on the behalf of the Coalition:

Jessica Ní Mhainín, Index on Censorship

Nik Williams, Index on Censorship

Susan Coughtrie, Foreign Policy Centre

Charlie Holt, Global Climate Legal Defence (CliDef)