Authorities proposals to clamp down on so-called strategic litigation towards public participation (SLAPP) have acquired a cautious welcome from the Legislation Society. Dominic Raab, the justice secretary, immediately set out measures together with a doable cap on recoverable prices amid mounting concern concerning the obvious use of defamation and privateness legal guidelines by rich people and companies. He additionally hinted at measures to bolster the SRA and look once more on the regulation of attorneys working on this subject.
Legislation Society president I. Stephanie Boyce stated: ‘The usage of SLAPPs – or strategic lawsuits towards public participation – has lengthy been controversial in our jurisdiction and elsewhere due to the impression they’ll have on much less well-resourced purchasers and on freedom of speech. It’s within the public curiosity that our justice system works for all individuals no matter their means and produces honest outcomes, so we welcome the federal government’s initiative to strengthen and make clear the foundations surrounding this sort of lawsuit.’
Raab introduced immediately that the federal government is in search of views on a spread of proposals ‘which shall be launched as quickly as doable’. These include amending the Defamation Act 2013 to strengthen the ‘public interest’ defence.
Ministers are additionally contemplating capping the prices that claimants can recuperate with the purpose of stopping the super-rich, corresponding to Russian oligarchs, from ‘weaponising’ the excessive value of litigation. Modifications could additionally introduce a selected requirement for claimants to show ‘actual malice’ by a defendant in libel circumstances with a view to deter spurious claims.
Different measures would allow courts to throw out claims utilizing these ways earlier in proceedings and impose civil restraint orders to forestall individuals from bringing repeated legal challenges.
The prime minister has indicated robust assist for reform. In a press release forward of the announcement, Boris Johnson stated: ‘The power of a free press to carry the highly effective to account is key to our democracy and as a former journalist I’m decided we mustn’t ever permit criticism to be silenced. For the oligarchs and super-rich who can afford these sky-high prices the specter of legal motion has turn out to be a new form of lawfare. We should put a cease to its chilling impact.’
Boyce stated that the Legislation Society plans to satisfy with parliamentarians and our members to listen to their views, ‘which can inform our response to the federal government’s session’.
Raab additionally informed the Home of Commons that the federal government would take a look at the regulation of attorneys and famous that the Solicitors Regulation Authority had just lately issued new steering on SLAPP circumstances.
‘We will look at the regulatory regime and, in fairness, I should point out that the Solicitors Regulation Authority recently issued new guidance reminding solicitors of their duty to report misconduct, identifying SLAPPs as an example of litigation for improper purposes and we will assess how that regulation is working and whether it is adequate in light of the evidence that we have.’
Shadow justice minister Steve Reed stated the proposals marked ‘a major and welcome shift in Conservative Party policy’, saying the rising variety of SLAPP circumstances has come about ‘because the Conservative Party got itself hooked on the Kremlin’s soiled cash’.
Reed additionally questioned Raab about his reference to the SRA, asking: ‘What penalties will be imposed on firms acting in these cases? Can he tell us what the SRA is doing to check that solicitors are doing proper due diligence on oligarch clients and the source of their wealth before helping themselves to a share of it and what action is he taking to stop law firms helping the Russian state make money that helps fund Putin’s warfare machine?’
In response to a query from the SNP’s Angela Crawley, Raab stated: ‘There are regulatory matters through the SRA regime that we want to look at, particularly around the ethics for solicitors.’
Conservative MP Bob Seely – who criticised ‘amoral’ attorneys in a debate earlier this month – stated: ‘I feel it’s a nice disgrace that over latest years we’ve allowed a corrupting cottage business of legalised intimidation and, frankly, legalised gangsterism to be provided by unscrupulous regulation companies on this nation to a few of the most wretched and unscrupulous individuals on earth.
‘I do hope that those people, those senior partners in those firms like Carter-Ruck, like CMS, like Mishcon, like Harbottle & Lewis will consider whether they feel that they have played an entirely negative role in enabling Kremlin neo-fascism.’
Raab stated Seely had made a ‘perfectly reasonable point about legal ethics’, however added: ‘I want to avoid this being an anti-lawyer push because the vast majority of legal practitioners are aghast at the abuses that we see and let’s have a focused strategy as a result of we usually tend to be efficient.’