Let’s Stop SLAPPs

  • 12 Sep 2023

UK and Irish governments must take action now to protect journalists and stop the abuse of lawsuits through SLAPPs.

Strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) are lawsuits brought by the powerful and rich against journalists, to influence and stymie reporting. They are an abuse of legal processes, and the NUJ is calling on UK and Irish governments to take urgent action to prevent their use.

Examples of SLAPPs include defamation lawsuits brought by Roman Abramovich against Catherine Belton, in relation to her book Putin’s People: How the KGB took back Russia and then took on the West; action condemned by the NUJ.

Another lawsuit brought in October 2021, was by the Kazakh mining company Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC) against journalist Tom Burgis, his publisher Harper Collins and employer Financial Times. ENRC stated claims in Burgis’ book Kleptopia: How Dirty Money is Conquering the World were highly damaging.

A high court judge ruled in Tom’s favour, dismissing the case brought by ENRC against the journalist and Harper Collins. ENRC eventually dropped their lawsuit against the Financial Times too.

SLAPPs are used to harass and intimidate journalists and before legal action is taken, threatening letters are often issued attempting to deter them and silence their reporting.

In November 2022, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) issued a warning notice urging firms and individuals conducting litigation to "advise clients against pursuing a course which amounts to abusive conduct, including making any threats in correspondence which are unjustified or illegal." The SRA is investigating 40 cases linked to SLAPPs. 

NUJ action so far

Ireland

In March 2023, Simon Harris, Minister for Justice, published draft legislation to reform Ireland’s defamation laws. The NUJ has previously contributed to a review recommending the introduction of Anti-SLAPP mechanisms preventing claims by the powerful. 

The European Council has adopted the anti-SLAPP directive with safeguards to protect media freedom and journalists facing strategic lawsuits against public participation. The union sits on the  Irish Anti SLAPPS alliance. 

England and Wales

In May 2022, the UK government launched a call for evidence on the use of SLAPPs in England and Wales. The NUJ responded, highlighting the impact these lawsuits have on members who have reported the significant financial and emotional burdens receiving a SLAPP can have.  

In June 2023, government tabled amendments to the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill giving judges greater powers to tackle SLAPPs if brought into law. Although a welcome step, the union has repeated its call for a standalone law. 

Through our seat on the UK Anti-SLAPP coalition, the NUJ and coalition members have asked the UK government to adopt the model SLAPP law, and to take action now to prevent delays in necessary legislation that stops abuses of legal processes. The NUJ attends meetings of the government-led SLAPPs taskforce.The group's creation has been welcomed by the union, and aims to explore non-legislative approaches to support journalists and tackle SLAPPs. 

The Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation Bill fell, following the dissolution of parliament ahead of the UK general election. 

Scotland

The NUJ also holds a seat on the Scotland sub-group of the UK Anti-SLAPP coalition focused on raising awareness of the impact of SLAPPs in the country. In September 2022, Roger Mullin submitted a petition calling on the Scottish government to review and amend the law, to prevent the use of SLAPPs. The NUJ has submitted views to the petition committee. Access the petition.

Read the NUJ submission. 

SLAPPs pose a threat to media freedom and public interest journalism and it is time governments ensure protections are in place for journalists through effective anti-SLAPP legislation. Let’s Stop SLAPPS.

Member action:

  • Share experiences of legal threats/emails or SLAPPs action with the union. Email [email protected] and help us gather insight and information into the impact of lawsuits on members
  • Watch the NUJ’s Let’s Stop SLAPPs webinar hosted by Professor Chris Frost, chair of the union’s Ethics council. Speakers include Peter Geoghean, openDemocracy, Susan Coughtrie, Foreign Policy Centre, and journalists Per Agerman and Annelie Östlund facing SLAPPs.
  • Watch Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, give evidence to the Justice committee.
  • Watch Professor Chris Frost, NUJ Ethics council chair, give evidence to the Communications and Digital committee.
  • Access resources and reports

News

Slapps.jpg
NUJ supports Lords committee's improvements to SLAPPs Bill to ensure journalists are protected

Baroness Stowell warns Lord Chancellor of "significant risk"

14 May 2024
Slapps.jpg
Leading media figures warn the government that the anti-SLAPPs bill is flawed

More than 60 editors, lawyers, journalists, academics and experts call for the Anti-SLAPP Bill to be amended to ensure it can protect everyone speakin...

11 April 2024
NUJ-logo-website.png
NUJ welcomes improved protections for journalists targeted with lawfare

The European Council has adopted the anti-SLAPP directive with safeguards to protect media freedom and journalists facing strategic lawsuits against p...

20 March 2024
Len Olea NUJP.jpg
Philippines: journalists under attack despite government commitments

NUJ expresses solidarity with journalists in the Philippines facing threats to their safety in targeted attacks within cities and provinces.  

26 January 2024
NUJ logo (website).png
NUJ hails significant SLAPPs ruling in Northern Ireland

The union has welcomed a judgment in favour of journalist Malachi O'Doherty, in "vexatious" defamation proceedings brought by Gerry Kelly MLA.

08 January 2024
UK-anti-SLAPP-coalition logo
UK Anti-SLAPP Coalition welcomes Wayne David MP’s Anti-SLAPP Bill

The Private Members’ Bill marks a “crucial milestone for the UK to stamp out all SLAPPs targeting public interest reporting.”

06 December 2023

Return to listing