NUJ welcomes government SLAPPs reforms
New measures to prevent legislation used to intimidate journalists and threaten press freedom have been announced.
The National Union of Journalists has welcomed a package of proposals from government clamping down on powerful individuals, who attempt to use strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs), to intimidate journalists and influence reporting.
Under reforms, a new three-part test will be used in an early dismissal process to determine whether a SLAPP case can be struck out. The test will include an assessment of whether a case relates to a public interest issue, if any abuse of process has occurred, and a merit test assessing the likely prospect of success.
Proposals also include a cost protection scheme introducing a cap on costs, to prevent defendants facing high legal bills in lengthy court cases.
Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:
“The NUJ has long been campaigning at national and international level against the use of defamation legislation to crush journalists and journalism.
"Publication of these proposals is a significant step in tackling the deployment of SLAPPs and other forms of lawfare designed to stymie journalistic investigations. Abuse of the law by the sly and mighty, who deeply resent the legitimate work of the media in calling them to account, is a scourge which must be eradicated.
“A free media is vital to the functioning of a democracy. That freedom is severely curtailed when those with deep pockets are allowed to use the law to threaten the very future of media organisations.”
Government's response to the Call for Evidence confirmed 120 responses received, including from journalists who had received a SLAPP and shared experiences of the chilling effect the lawsuits had. While plans are a welcome step in the right direction, the union had hoped government would adopt calls for a low-cost arbitration scheme to settle genuine disputes.
The NUJ will continue to oppose the use of SLAPPs and call for strengthened reforms including through our seat on the UK Anti-SLAPP Coalition.