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Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation Taskforce

Volume 737: debated on Monday 11 September 2023

This is a joint statement with the Lord Chancellor, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk)

We are pleased to inform the House that HM Government are today formally announcing the launch of a taskforce dedicated to tackling Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, known as SLAPPs, which target journalists.

SLAPPs seek to silence investigative journalists, writers and campaigners, often on unfounded defamation and privacy grounds which prevent the publication of information in the public interest. This abuse of the legal system is used by the wealthy to intimidate and financially exhaust opponents, threatening them with extreme costs for defending a claim and therefore undermining the reporting of important public interest issues. The Government recognise the need to protect defendants from abusive litigation while ensuring access to justice for properly conducted claims.

The new taskforce, which will have its inaugural meeting today, 11 September, will sit within the framework of the National Committee for the Safety of Journalists, which was set up to ensure that journalists operating in the UK can do so free from violence or threats. It will bring together key stakeholders from across Government, civil society groups, representative bodies for journalists, and legal services regulators and stakeholders to develop a non-legislative response to SLAPPs targeting journalists. Its work will complement incoming legislation tackling economic-crime linked SLAPPs which cover up to 70% of such cases brought to UK courts. The changes, introduced in the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill, will allow SLAPPs to be thrown out by judges more quickly and place a cap on the costs for those targeted, making them less effective at strong-arming reporters into abandoning their stories. The Government have also committed to legislating to tackle SLAPPs beyond economic crime as soon as parliamentary time allows.

The establishment of the taskforce will be key in driving forward the Government’s agenda to make sure that appropriate protections exist for journalists who are tirelessly working to investigate and publish stories in the public interest, holding power to account and supporting our strong democratic tradition. Its first priority will be to establish an ambitious plan of activity to deliver its objectives over a fixed, 12-month period after which its future will be reassessed. It will be led by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport along with the Ministry of Justice and its inauguration is a key milestone in our roadmap for bolstering the safety of journalists in the UK.

This is an important development in ensuring that journalists in the UK can continue to serve the vital democratic function of holding the powerful to account.