SLAPPs—a threat to liberal democracy?
The issue of SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) has exploded into the political and news agenda over the past couple of years. SLAPPS may be a relatively new term in the UK, but it encapsulates for many a far longer-standing problem for British journalism. That is that the UK’s libel (as well as privacy and data protection) laws are regularly misused to shut down public interest reporting, stifling public debate to the detriment of our country.
In 2022 alone, high profile litigation brought against investigative journalists caught the public’s attention: lawyers bringing these claims were personally called out in Parliament and the Government promised legislative reform to ‘decisively stamp out’ SLAPPs. A Ministry of Justice consultation found SLAPPs were having a ‘chilling effect’ that goes ‘far beyond the rough and tumble of ordinary litigation’. In November 2022, over 70 leading editors, journalists, lawyers, academics and other experts signed an open letter to Justice Minister Dominic Raab endorsing a model UK Anti-SLAPP Law, developed by the UK Anti-SLAPP Coalition*, as a ready-made solution.
The same month, the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA), which regulates solicitors in England and Wales, produced a ‘warning notice’ reminding their members that “representing your client’s interests does not override wider public interest obligations and duties to the courts.” The SRA currently has upwards of 40 open investigations into potential SLAPPs-related cases.
So what now?
The UK Government has yet to bring forward any legislative proposals, nor a timeline to do so. Yet there remains debate within media circles as to the need for reform and whether meaningful reform is even possible. Notably, a judge in one of the most high profile cases, brought by Leave.EU founder Arron Banks against journalist Carole Cadwalladr, while ruling in Cadwalladr’s favour also declared the case not to be a SLAPP. The decision in Cadwalladr’s favour has since been partially overturned by the Court of Appeal, while debate over whether the case is a SLAPP continues.
Joining Alan Rusbridger, Prospect Magazine’s Editor, to discuss these issues in more depth will be Carole Cadwalladr, together with her lawyer Gavin Millar KC, who authored an article last year for Prospect ‘Slapp lawsuits are a threat to liberal democracy. This is how to stop them.’
About the Speakers:
Carole Cadwalladr is a British author and investigative journalist. She is a features writer for The Observer and formerly worked at The Daily Telegraph. In 2018 she exposed the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal for which she was a finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting.
Gavin Millar KC is a media law specialist, representing media outlets, journalists and politicians. He advised the Guardian on its Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of Edward Snowden’s disclosures and defended Carole Cadwalladr’s libel case with Arron Banks.
Alan Rusbridger (Chair), is editor of Prospect and former editor-in-chief of The Guardian during which time many high profile stories were published including the Wikileaks diplomatic cables revelations; the phone-hacking story which saw News International journalists jailed, and Edward Snowden disclosures about mass surveillance.
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Carole Cadwalladr is a British author and investigative journalist.
Gavin Millar KC is a media law specialist, representing media outlets, journalists and politicians.
Alan Rusbridger (Chair), is editor of Prospect and former editor-in-chief of The Guardian.