Lawsuits designed to intimidate and silence must be stopped, ministers to hear

The use of lawsuits to intimidate journalists and campaigners into silence must be stopped, ministers will hear.

Labour former minister Wayne David will on Friday urge MPs to back his Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation Bill.

Strategic litigation against public participation (Slapps), are often used by the rich to try – under defamation and privacy laws – to stop journalists or campaigners from exposing wrongdoing.

While ministers have already begun to tighten the law on Slapps related to economic crime, veteran Labour MP Mr David said his efforts would take it a step further.

“The Bill seeks to define what a Slapp is and will set out an early dismissal mechanism so, if any individuals or groups bring forward these Slapps, they can be tackled at an early stage and dealt with under the system,” Mr David said.

The Caerphilly MP added: “The finance of it is important as well because one of the things in this legislation I am bringing forward is that there will be proper compensation for individuals who are threatened in this way, so there will be financial protection for them.

“Because they might be threatened with extensive, long legal cases, nevertheless the courts will have the power to ensure that these individuals do not lose out financially like this.

UK Parliament portraits
Wayne David wants to tackle the problem of Slapps (Richard Townshend/UK Parliament/PA)

There have been prominent examples of Russian oligarchs using Slapps to silence critics in recent years.

A defamation case by HarperCollins and author Catherine Belton was settled with Roman Abramovich, after her book Putin’s People: How The KGB Took Back Russia And Then Took On The West included claims he purchased Chelsea football club in 2003 at the Russian president’s command.

Measures have been added to the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act by ministers, with the aim of allowing judges to take early action against the lawsuits.

Mr David, a shadow Foreign Office minister, said his proposals would build on the Government’s actions, and claimed they had the support of ministers as well as the Labour frontbench.

With Parliamentary time running short ahead of an expected general election, Mr David suggested it was the hope of both ministers and Labour that the Bill would “reach the statute book before the next election”.

But the MP, who is standing down from his seat, signalled his party would likely return to the law changes if it wins the next election and the Bill has not passed.

He said: “There is an urgency to get it through quickly. But certain things are beyond us. We just have to wait and see what happens in terms of an election.

“But, equally, I do think it is important that if we do have an election there is a firm commitment both from the current Government and from the Labour Opposition that this will be a priority in the next Parliament.”

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