Legal regulators and representatives join government SLAPPs taskforce

Frazer: Legal fees a threat to journalists

Legal regulators and representative bodies were yesterday named as members of a new government taskforce aiming to clamp down on strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs).

The Solicitors Regulation Authority, Bar Standards Board, Law Society, Bar Council and Media Lawyers Association are joined by media and free speech organisations on the taskforce, set up by the Department for Culture, Media & Sport.

The purpose is to “drive forward measures to protect public interest journalism from SLAPPs, including those linked to non-economic crime”.

The taskforce will commission research to investigate the prevalence of SLAPPs used against journalists.

It will also “explore how legal services regulation could be used to prevent or mitigate SLAPPs, draw up plans for new specialist training for judges and law professionals to help them identify and throw out SLAPPs more easily, and develop guidance to support journalists, publications or law professionals”.

Culture secretary Lucy Frazer, a barrister, said: “SLAPPs have led to journalists having to crowdfund their legal fees and some have even been forced to sell their homes – simply for doing their job.

“Working together with industry leaders, we will develop strong measures which enhance the freedom of the press to expose wrongdoing without fear of our justice system being abused to silence journalists.”

The Ministry of Justice has already announced a series of measures to tackle SLAPPs. In June, it published additions to the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill to define in law what a SLAPP is in relation to economic crime, require claimants to prove it has a reasonable chance of success to advance it in court, and cap costs. These were soon passed by Parliament.

Yesterday’s announcement reiterated the commitment to legislating to tackle SLAPPs outside of economic crime as soon as parliamentary time allows.

The taskforce will report regularly on progress to the National Committee for the Safety of Journalists. Set up by the government, the committee brings together representatives from government, journalism, policing, prosecution services and civil society to work in collaboration.

The other bodies on the taskforce are the National Union of Journalists, Index on Censorship, Society of Editors, Reporters Without Borders, News Media Association, Foreign Policy Centre, press freedom advocate organisation English PEN, and the Publishers Association.

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