Anti-Slapps amendments are 'potentially very significant' for protecting defendants from 'ruinous' claims

Published on 13 June 2023

'Journalists and whistleblowers should not face the prospect of bankruptcy and losing their home for doing their job'

Following today's announcement by the Government of proposed anti-Slapps amendments to the Economic Crime Bill, Partner Rupert Cowper-Coles, who specialises in media disputes, said:

"The proposed Government amendment to the Economic Crime Bill to tackle the issue of Slapps (strategic lawsuits against public participation) is very welcome. England is currently the jurisdiction of choice for claimants to seek to stop journalists and media organisations reporting on corruption, so the amendment is much needed.

"We hope that (as the Government has indicated) this amendment is a first step towards wider "anti-slapp" legislation that applies not only to matters relating to economic crime, but to public interest reporting generally.   

"There doesn't seem to be any good reason why a Slapp to stop reporting of serious misconduct or criminality of any kind should be permissible.  It may be that lessons and legislation are improved by trialling anti-SLAPP measures in this particular area.

"While the proposed early dismissal mechanism is certainly welcome, it doesn't appear that it will change the threshold that has to be met by a claimant in order to be able to take a claim to trial.  The test seems to be similar to the current test for 'summary judgment'.  That said, shifting the burden to a claimant to evidence their case has merit is very positive.  

"The suggestion that the amendment will introduce cost protection for defendants is potentially very significant.  Above anything else, it is the enormous costs risk of defending public interest journalism that can have the most chilling effect on free speech. We hope that where a case has been identified as a Slapp, regardless of whether it is dismissed, defendants will be protected from the potentially ruinous consequences of having to pay adverse costs should their defence fail. 

"Journalists and whistleblowers should not face the prospect of bankruptcy and losing their home for doing their job by reporting on dirty money and corruption. If this legislation can offer more comfort in that regard, it will have achieved a lot."

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