Global pressure intensifies to end ‘SLAPP’ lawsuits  

July 08, 2022

Legislators seek to combat SLAPP techniques

Legislatures around the world are becoming increasingly aware of Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) techniques being used by individuals and companies, and are seeking methods of combating the practice, according to research by law firm Leigh Day. 

SLAPPs are defined as legal actions that attempt to stifle free speech, exhaust defendants financially or through sheer stress of the proceedings, intimidate the defendants, be part of a wider campaign of bullying, and be largely meritless. 

In April 2021, the EU appointed Roberta Metsola as its first-ever rapporteur to lead anti-SLAPP efforts. In May 2021, the European Parliament held a hearing to establish an anti-SLAPP report, which is being prepared jointly by the EU Committees on Legal Affairs and Civil Liberties. 

The Leigh Day research noted that Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was being targeted by 42 lawsuits at the time of her assassination. Oil giant Chevron’s aggressive lawsuits against, and ultimately leading to the imprisonment of, American lawyer Steven Donziger have also been considered by Amnesty International as a SLAPP. 

Reporters Without Borders has claimed that an aggressively pursued defamation case brought by pro-Brexit businessman Arron Banks against Guardian journalist Carole Cadwalladr constituted a SLAPP. 

A key development in the fight against SLAPPs being a regular tool of intimidation occurred in South Africa following the 2021 case Mineral Sands Resources v Reddell. In a decision described as “landmark” by Leigh Day, deputy judge President Goliath accepted a special defence to defamation claims, declaring that SLAPPs violate the constitutional right to freedom of expression and are vexatious. 

Goliath concluded: “The improper use and abuse of the judicial process interferes with due administration of justice and undermines fundamental notions of justice and the integrity of our judicial process. SLAPP suits constitute an abuse of process and is inconsistent with our constitutional values and scheme.” 

With this case as a precedent, the Leigh Day research stated that there is a “vital” need for judges worldwide to acknowledge the material and motivational conditions which surround this litigation. It encourages members of the judiciary to call out what can be considered an abuse of process and refuse such litigation the opportunity to progress beyond preliminary stages. 

Last Updated: 8 July 2022