The UK government Thursday rejected a proposed legislative amendment to allow judges to dismiss legal cases brought by wealthy oligarchs or businesses to silence journalists and critics.
The amendment, tabled by MP Liam Byrne, was aimed at addressing “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation” (SLAPPs), through which wealthy individuals often use defamation or privacy laws to threaten investigative journalists with extensive legal costs. The UK announced a legislative crackdown against these suits earlier this year. According to the government, SLAPPs are “a growing threat to freedom of speech and a free press” and “stifle legitimate reporting and debate.”
Byrne told Parliament that it is “simply outrageous that a country that prides itself as the home of free speech now is home to courts being used to silence journalists.” He cited several recent SLAPP lawsuits, including Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich’s libel claim against journalist Catherine Belton over her biography of Vladmir Putin.
Minister for Security Tom Tugendhat refused to accept the proposed amendment to the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill, which was expedited through Parliament in March to allow the government to more quickly impose sanctions against Russian oligarchs.