Insights Anti-SLAPP Bill: Letter calls for changes


Prominent editors, journalists, publishers, and legal experts have signed a letter to the Justice Secretary calling upon the Government to support an amendment to the Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation Bill (SLAPP Bill).

The letter raises concerns that the SLAPP Bill, a private members’ bill announced last year which sought to build upon and improve the SLAPP provisions of the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act 2023, risks replicating the “deficiencies” that have been identified in those provisions, rendering it “ineffective, inaccessible, and ultimately redundant”.

The amendment that the letter supports, drafted by the UK Anti-SLAPP Coalition, is “small but crucial”: as currently drafted, the proposed SLAPP Bill requires a court to make a subjective judgement as to whether the claimant’s behaviour “has, or is intended to have, the effect of restraining the defendant’s exercise of the right to freedom of speech”. As the letter explains, ascertaining the subjective intent of a party is “notoriously difficult, time-intensive, expensive and uncertain”. Therefore, the amendment replaces this subjective test with an objective one which, in the view of the signatories, will enable courts and judges to be able to take advantage of the Bill’s early dismissal mechanism, making “timely, consistent and evidence-based determinations of SLAPP case before legal costs have accrued”.

The letter also calls for the refining of the definition of ‘public interest’ in the SLAPP Bill. As drafted, the Bill sets out four matters in particular that are of public interest, including public health and safety, climate or the environment, an investigation or review being undertaken by a public body, and behaviour of the claimant that is alleged to be unlawful. The signatories argue that this definition “could introduce unnecessary uncertainty, which must be avoided for this Bill to be effective. While the examples in the Bill are only illustrative, it is vital that the definition demonstrates the breadth and diversity of public interest reporting to give confidence to public watchdogs”.

The letter can be read here, and the proposed amendment can be viewed here.