One of the goals of SLAPPs is to make the target think they are alone. If a target is isolated they are more likely to give into the demands. This way SLAPPs can be successful months (or years) before making it to court. However, if you are the target of a SLAPP there is support for you.
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Knowing when a SLAPP is a SLAPP
SLAPPs are deployed through a wide range of causes of action. They are not just defamation, they are the abuse of law to silence public participation. As a result there are a few tactics that can help label a SLAPP as a SLAPP. Check out our What is a SLAPP page, or, if you are a journalist, media worker or representative of a media outlet, the Am I Facing a SLAPP tool developed by Index on Censorship.
Who to tell
When you receive a legal threat that you believe to be a SLAPP it may be daunting to know who you can reach out to and how much you can say. Some SLAPP targets have gone public with the threats made against them, others have even published the legal letters they have received. This is a decision that is unique to each target. However, securing legal representation or access to legal advice will help you navigate this process to ensure you can access the support and solidarity you need while not increasing your risks. If you choose to report the SLAPP there are a number of bodies who you can reach out to.
Contact the UK Anti-SLAPP Coalition
The UK Anti-SLAPP Coalition is made up of a range of organisations who have expertise in a wide range of fields. By reaching out to the coalition, we can be sure that this expertise is put towards supporting the targets of SLAPPs. To date, the coalition has been able to report SLAPPs to the Council of Europe, brief MPs and other policy-makers, as well as coordinate public advocacy campaigns to encourage solidarity with SLAPP targets. The Coalition can connect targets of SLAPPs with external organisations, draft alerts to international bodies or help coordinate media and civil society attention.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is the regulator of solicitors and law firms in England and Wales. It regulates more than 200,000 solicitors in England and Wales. The stated purpose of the SRA is to protect the public by ensuring that solicitors meet high standards, and by acting when risks are identified. Everyone has the right to complain about the acts, behaviour and conduct of a solicitor or their firm and the SRA has a set of procedures to enable you to report an individual or a firm to them.
Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE) Legal Mapping
CASE has mapped an overview of the lawyers, law firms, legal organisations and funds across Europe that are able to support SLAPP victims on a pro bono (i.e. without charge) or reduced fee basis. These legal services have indicated to CASE their willingness and capacity to deal with SLAPPs. They have an expertise in a range of relevant areas of law that may be relevant when dealing with SLAPPs, including media law, intellectual property law, criminal law, corporate law and fundamental rights. We have indicated where these services have capacity to advise and where they have capacity to represent SLAPP victims.
The MFRR is a consortium of media freedom and journalist protection organisations from across Europe working to defend journalists, media workers and outlets. As part of this, the MFRR, led by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), can offer and coordinate legal support on matters related to free speech for individuals and organisations working in countries located geographically in Europe. Support will be available for, but not limited to, issues such as defamation, access to public documents, protection of sources, and whistleblowing.
Media Defence supports journalists – including citizen journalists, bloggers, broadcasters, photojournalists, cartoonists or fact-checkers – and news outlets when they are confronted with legal action as a result of their reporting. They can provide funding for your legal defence, help you find a lawyer or provide technical legal support to your lawyer. Media Defence can also help you bring legal action to compel the state to protect your rights if they have been violated. 73% of the cases Media Defence have supported have had a successful or partially successful outcome.
Part of the challenge of campaigning against SLAPPs is knowing where and when they take place. As the majority of SLAPPs never make it to court, we cannot depend on court rulings to map SLAPPs. However, there are a number of venues available to track the proliferation of SLAPPs, both in the UK and further afield.
Council of Europe Platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists
This platform, established by the Council of Europe in 2015, is a unique mechanism which helps the dialogue between the governments and the organisations of journalists, with the aim of stopping violations to press freedom in the member states of the Council of Europe and enabling journalists to exercise their profession without the risk of compromising their safety. It aims to improve the protection of journalists, better address threats and violence against media professionals and foster early warning mechanisms and response capacity within the Council of Europe.
A number of members of the UK Anti-SLAPP Coalition, such as Index on Censorship, ARTICLE 19 and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) are partners to the platform. If the platform could help draw attention to a SLAPP you are facing, please contact the Coalition here.
Mapping Media Freedom is a crowdsourced map documenting media freedom violations across Europe. It is managed by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response. The platform allows anyone to upload an alert, which would then be verified by experts before it is published on the interactive map. As well as physical threats, as well as threats of arrest, detention or censorship, the platform includes SLAPP threats.
The CASE coalition is made up of 224 members from media freedom NGOs, environmental NGOs, protectors of civic space as well as individual human rights lawyers and academics. As part of their Europe-wide campaign, they document and categorise SLAPPs and map them across European countries.
Reporters Shield is a new program, launching in 2023, defending investigative reporting around the world from legal threats meant to silence critical voices. Reporters Shield helps reduce the risk of lawsuits through training and pre-publication review and also fund legal assistance to fight lawsuits meant to intimidate and financially burden reporters (such as SLAPPs). Reporters Shield is a solution to the increasing danger these lawsuits pose to investigative journalism in the public interest. Participating organisations will pay reasonable annual fees to keep the program sustainable. Reporters Shield is being developed by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and the Cyrus Vance Center for International Justice of the New York City Bar Association. Reporters Shield will be available to journalism and other public interest reporting organisations in most countries.
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