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  • Writer's pictureCommercial Awareness

Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) and its Impact

by Elaine Hua on 13/02/23


Summary:

Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) are legal actions, usually used by wealthy companies and organizations, intended to intimidate, censor, or silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defence. Recently, SRA (Solicitors Regulation Authority) probed 40 cases relating to SLAPP, which may result in disciplinary actions.


Understanding the topic.

Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) are legal actions intended to intimidate, censor, or silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense. SLAPPs are typically brought by powerful individuals or organizations, such as corporations, against individuals or groups who are outspoken against them. These lawsuits often target people who are exercising their constitutional right to free speech and can have a chilling effect on public debate and discourse.


In the UK, SRA recently investigated into the law firm’s understanding of SLAPPs. In its report, it observed that while most firms and solicitors have a good understanding of the risk fo SLAPP, the pratice in libel and reputation management is concerning. This is particular the case for companies that have associations with Russia after the Ukranian invasion. Russian oligarchs exploits the strict libel laws to threaten journalists and authors who attempts to critise them. SRA is probbing 40 live caes relating to SLAPPs. The outcome of the probe and the disciplinary actions to be taken by SRA will be very important for legal practitioners.


Impact:

The impact of SLAPP lawsuits can be significant, not only on individuals or groups who are targeted but also on businesses and the legal industry.


For citizens, SLAPPs can be financially and emotionally devastating. They can bankrupt individuals and organizations, and force them to give up their right to free speech to avoid legal action. The chilling effect of SLAPPs can also stifle public debate and discourse, limiting citizens' access to information and freedom of expression.


For businesses, SLAPPs can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, businesses can use SLAPPs to silence critics or competitors, but on the other hand, they can become targets of SLAPPs themselves. In some cases, SLAPPs can also damage a company's reputation, especially if the public perceives the lawsuit as an attempt to silence criticism or avoid accountability.


Finally, the legal industry can also be impacted by SLAPP lawsuits. While it stays true that lawyers serves in clients’ interest, they are also the servant of the court. After the SRA probe, the solicitors need to put more consideration into what is the limit between maximising clients interest and abiding the moral baseline of not abusing the public’s freedom of expression. Afterall, it is also wise to advise the company on how to abide by those rules as dragging the company into the SLAPPs turmoil is also not ideal for company’s reputation. In addition, law firms can also take a stance against SLAPPs and refuse to represent plaintiffs who are clearly using legal action to silence critics.


Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation can have a significant impact on individuals, businesses, and the legal industry. While SRA had taken steps to protect citizens' right to free speech, more needs to be done to address the growing threat of SLAPPs, in order to ensure that justice is served fairly.




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