NUJ welcomes government changes on sanctions rules

  • 31 Mar 2023

New rules will block sanctioned oligarchs from bringing defamation cases in the UK.

In a written statement on 30 March, James Cartlidge, exchequer secretary, outlined government action following a review assessing how legal fees licence applications are considered by the treasury. Prior to the review, licences could be issued for a range of activities otherwise prohibited by sanctions. This meant that in January, Yevgeny Prigozhin, a sanctioned ally of president Putin had been able to obtain a licence and bring defamation proceedings against journalist Eliot Higgins.

Higgins, founder of investigative website Bellingcat was sued personally and considers it a deliberate attempt to intimidate him. The NUJ has condemned this approach also used by multimillionaire Arron Banks when bringing legal action against journalist Carole Cadwalladr over content in her tweets and TED talk.

Following its review, government has confirmed that in future cases, “legal fees relating to defamation and similar cases will be rejected.” It has also amended the Russian and Belarussian Legal Services General Licence so it no longer authorises legal fees for defamation or similar cases.

Cartlidge said:

“It is the Government’s view that in most cases, the use of frozen funds for payment of legal professional fees for defamation cases is not an appropriate use of funds, and in many cases will be against the public interest.”

The NUJ has urged the UK government to introduce urgent legislation tackling SLAPPs. Despite a commitment to do so following its summer consultation in 2022, it has since published an anticipated completion date for achieving its aim in 2025, with little progress to date.

The UK Anti-SLAPP coalition has published a model law and is calling on ministers to ensure reform recognises the tactics used by wealthy and powerful individuals, abusing legal processes. 

Read the full statement.

Find out more about the NUJ's Let's Stop SLAPPs campaign. 

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