Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation are an increasing problem in defamation law. In his Foreword to the government consultation – which is here – Dominic Raab defines SLAPPs as: “SLAPPs can be characterised as an abuse of the legal process, where the primary objective is to harass, intimidate and financially and psychologically exhaust one’s opponent via improper means.”
Fundamentally, the process amounts to an abuse of freedom of speech and legal process – and an assault, ultimately, upon the rule of law. It is a practice engaged in by either very rich individuals or corporations; or by activist organisations acting as proxies for the very rich and motivated.
The linked consultation above says:
“SLAPPs have two key features:
- They target acts of public participation. Public participation can include academic research, journalism and whistle-blowing activity concerned with matters of societal importance, such as illicit finance or corruption.
- They aim to prevent information in the public interest from being published. This can be by threatening or bringing proceedings which often feature excessive claims.”
Whilst the number of actual cases reaching the courts is relatively low, this consultation recognises that a large number of SLAPPs go undetected because the mere threat of expensive litigation upon an individual who may be investigating wrongdoing by a powerful person or organisation, is enough to stop publication or even prevent further investigation.
Part of this consultation is motivated by government awareness of ‘libel tourism’ whereby wealthy foreign nationals use the UK’s legal system to operate aggressive litigation against people they do not like. However, there are also a large number of people within the UK who use various forms of vexatious litigation, including defamation actions, to bring pressure to bear upon their opponents.
A large part of the SLAPP strategy is to wear down opposition both financially and psychologically. Anyone who has been subjected to litigation will know that the time and stress in engaging with such matters is incredibly debilitating. As a result, most people will be frightened and give up investigating, or cave in and suffer often savage financial retribution. The advent of social media and the rapid dissemination of information, means that perfectly ordinary people can be subjected to such actions simply for retweeting an article or comment perceived to be defamatory by an aggressive claimant. We are all at risk from this problem.
The purpose of this government consultation is to develop, as quickly as possible, legislation, guidance, and other methods of combatting the aggressive abuse of our legal system by means of SLAPPs. The link is at the top of this article, or here: https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/strategic-lawsuits-against-public-participation/consultation/
Those of us who work in the countryside, be they farmer, gamekeeper, huntsman, fisherman or whatever, know that the anti-countryside movement is growing and becoming increasingly sophisticated and well-funded. We are under assault, not just from SLAPPs, but from a range of measures designed to harass and cost us time and money in combatting both legal and illegal assaults.
The writer is aware of a number of people who have been directly threatened by expensive lawyers acting for wealthy individuals or organisations – both in England and Wales, and in Scotland. Those who have been affected in this way can help considerably by filling in the SLAPPs consultation questionnaire. The government is particularly keen to hear from anyone who has been thus threatened, but where matters never got as far as court. The effect of this kind of thing upon all of us must be brought under control, whilst at the same time maintaining the right of legitimate complaints to be settled in court if necessary.
In addition to the consultation, this author is collecting instances of where journalists and others have been threatened with litigation of this type. This will help in the fightback against those who would see our entire countryside, and the communities that depend upon it, altered without any kind of public consent into something that disadvantages our landscapes, food production, ecology, archaeological heritage, and rural communities.
If you are a member of the fieldsports or farming communities and have been threatened with legal action because you have publicly criticised a person or organisation for some kind of wrongdoing, then please contact this website with your details, and we will get in contact.
‘Three Legged Lewis’