A slap in the face for free speech? How SLAPPs are being brought to book

The ECCTA introduced legislation on strategic litigation against public participation (colloquially known as SLAPPs) for the first time in the UK.

SLAPPs are claims brought to harass, intimidate and/or financially or psychologically exhaust one’s opponent by improper means. They can be characterised as a misuse and abuse of the legal process, often being brought by wealthy individuals or corporations to stifle freedom of speech and prevent scrutiny in the public interest.

The ECCTA has legislated on SLAPPs in three key ways:

  • for the first time, it provides a legal definition for SLAPPs under the law of England and Wales;
  • it provides for the creation of a new process by which these types of claims can be quickly dismissed by the court; and 
  • it provides for the creation of new costs protection for defendants, which will limit the amount a defendant will have to pay towards a claimant’s costs in a SLAPP case unless the defendant’s own misconduct justifies otherwise.

Lord Chancellor Alex Chalk highlighted the inclusion of SLAPPs legislation in the ECCTA as the first step in “stamping out the brazen abuse of our legal system that has allowed wealthy individuals to silence investigators who are trying to expose their wrongdoing.”