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Article

6 Dec 2021

Author:
Nick Hilborne, Legal Futures

UK: Senior judges and lawyers call for legal reforms to curb SLAPPs

"Judges and lawyers call for curbs on misuse of SLAPPs", 30 November 2021

Senior judges and lawyers on a panel chaired by former Supreme Court president Lord Neuberger have called for legal reforms to curb ‘strategic lawsuits against public participation’ (SLAPPs)... Panel member Baroness Helena Kennedy QC told the conference, Countering threats to media freedom, organised by the Justice for Journalists Foundation and the Foreign Policy Centre, that along with journalists investigating government corruption and exposing corporate abuses, non-governmental organisations and human rights activists were also victims of SLAPPs. In her keynote address, she said SLAPPs often involved a misuse of the law while cases were advanced under the guise of normal ‘due process’ ...

The working party said that given “the procedural abuse engaged in by SLAPP litigants”, much could be accomplished under the Civil Procedure Rules, which aimed to ensure that the system was ‘accessible, fair and efficient’. CPR 24.4, on summary judgment, could be amended to require claims targeting public participation to meet a higher threshold. On costs and the courts’ discretion under CPR 44.2, the working party said a claim could be “meritorious under law but still be pursued using abusive SLAPP tactics”, for example deliberately stretching out proceedings. CPR 44.2 could be amended so, when making decisions on costs orders, courts have regard whether the claim “targets acts of public participation”...

Professor Can Yeginsu, a 4 New Square barrister and incoming deputy chair of the panel, said: “The use or threat of legal action in order to intimidate or censor journalists by burdening them with mounting legal costs and other civil liability is chilling expression in many countries around the world and interfering with journalists’ abilities to perform their professional duties in reporting on corruption and other abuses of power...

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