Measures announced to prevent elites from abusing UK legal system

On 20th July 2022, the Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab outlined a set of measures to tackle what are known as ‘Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation’ (SLAPPS). This will enable the courts to dismiss baseless claims faster and place a cap on costs to stop the mega-rich (such as Russian oligarchs) from using expensive litigation to stifle their critics.

SLAPPS usually consist of rich people or large companies utilising the threat of continuous legal action and costs to silence opponents under defamation and privacy laws. This tactic if often employed against journalists, authors, and campaigners to pressure them into restricting or abandoning critical books or stories.

Responses to a government call for evidence found this was having a negative effect in that journalists, media organisations and publishers reported they no longer would publish information about certain people or topics (such as corruption) due to the possible legal costs. Ministers would like to stop this practice and protect the UK’s free press and will legislate as necessary.

According to the reforms, a court will apply a 3-part test to determine whether a case should be dismissed immediately or allowed to proceed. First, it will decide if the case is against activity in the public interest. Then, it will examine if there’s evidence of abuse of process, such as whether the claimant has sent several highly aggressive letters on a trivial matter. Finally, it will review whether the case has sufficient merit – specifically if it has a realistic prospect of success.

Anyone subject to a suspected SLAPPs case will be able to apply to the court to have it considered for early dismissal. Importantly, ministers will also bring about a new costs protection scheme to level the playing field between rich claimants and defendants.

These changes should help to protect those fighting lawsuits from significant costs and enable baseless cases to be properly defended. The Government will consult the Civil Procedure Rules Committee as required and outline the design of the scheme and the exact level of cost caps in due course.

Click here to read more about the reforms.