SLAPPs: an ongoing threat to freedom of expression

Date and time: Tue, 18 Jul 2023 19:00 – 20:30 BST (in-person and online)
Location: The Human Rights Action Centre, Amnesty International UK 25 New Inn Yard London EC2A 3EA

SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) are a powerful weapon against freedom of expression. These types of abusive lawsuits – or the threat of them – are used by a private party with the purpose of silencing critical speech, in an effort to evade scrutiny of an issue in the public interest.

It’s not just journalists who are at risk; anybody, including those publicly reporting cases of sexual assault and harassment or speaking out about dangerous housing or documenting environmental issues, could find themselves subject to a SLAPP in an attempt to silence them.

The UK has been identified as a particularly favourable jurisdiction for SLAPPs, given the incredibly high costs involved as well as the length of the legal process, which can take years before reaching a trial. This exerts a level of pressure upon those subject to legal threats to fold, withdraw the material under claim and settle, even if they want to defend their case. 

Whilst a recent Government-led amendment, if brought into law, would make it harder to silence those exposing economic crime is a huge step forward (as it would be the first anti-SLAPP measure in the UK), we know that more work is needed to provide universal protections against SLAPPs.

Join the Foreign Policy Centre, English PEN and Amnesty International UK for this conversation, taking place in-person and online, followed by audience questions and a drinks reception.

The organisation of this event has been made possible through ongoing support from the Justice for Journalists Foundation, and sponsorship from the law firm Wiggin.

About the speakers:

  • Caroline Kean is a Media Defence Lawyer and founder of law firm Wiggin. Caroline has over 30 years’ experience as a commercial litigator; she is also one of the UK’s most influential defamation and privacy litigators. She has immense experience in resolving complex media disputes at editorial and main board level. Known especially as a fearsome tactician, and having defended prominent SLAPPs in recent years, Caroline has worked closely with English PEN and the Foreign Policy Centre to table model Anti-SLAPP legislation.
  • Nina Cresswell is a writer who won a landmark defamation case brought against her by her attacker, defending her right to write about his sexual assault of her. 
  • Peter Apps is Deputy Editor for Inside Housing and author of Show Me the Bodies: How We Let Grenfell Happen, which won the 2023 Orwell prize for political writing.
  • Simon Dowson-Collins Simon runs the legal and contracts team at HarperCollins UK and is responsible for all legal advice. HarperCollins published Putin’s People by Catherine Belton and Kleoptopia by Tom Burgis. Simon was responsible for the strategic defence of those books and oversaw all of the litigation in which HarperCollins ultimately prevailed.
  • Mary Fitzgerald (chair) is Director of Expression, OSF, and former Editor in Chief of openDemocracy, where she navigated numerous SLAPPs, and spoke out publicly about abusive legal threats from leading British politicians.