Insights Government publishes response to call for evidence on Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPS)


In its response document published in July 2022, the Government says that SLAPPs are a recognisable and pernicious form of litigation which seek to silence, intimidate, and harass opponents. In the Government’s view, SLAPPs are designed to silence criticism and investigation conducted in the public interest.

The Government says that it received strong evidence of the form that SLAPPs take, both pre-action and in court proceedings, and of the personal impact that such lawsuits have on individuals. Some of the evidence provided on the impact of SLAPPs was “harrowing”. Accordingly, the Government says that it “cannot reconcile the assurances of some respondents that SLAPPs are exaggerated or do not exist at all with this material”. The Government has concluded that SLAPPs go beyond the parameters of ordinary litigation: they pose a threat to freedom of speech and the freedom of the press, as they have a chilling effect, on both the individual and systematically.

As a result, the Government intends to pursue legislative reform at the earliest opportunity. It intends to introduce a new statutory early dismissal process to strike out SLAPPs and avoid lengthy SLAPP litigation. This measure will be made up of three parts:

  1. a definition of public interest;
  2. a set of criteria for the courts to determine whether a case should be classified as a SLAPP based on one or more of the common characteristics of such actions; and
  3. a merits test.

The Government also intends to pursue other reforms which do not require primary legislation, but which would use the statutory definition and criteria as the basis for SLAPPs to be made subject to a special regime. The focus of these reforms will be a formal costs protection scheme. The call for evidence showed that costs exposure is the single greatest factor overwhelming and intimidating opponents in SLAPPs cases.

The call for evidence explored a wide range of reform options, including reform of defamation laws. The Government says that case for reform in this area was not clear cut, in part because existing legislation provides measures which can be used to address SLAPP-style defamation litigation, but also because the evidence was not sufficiently compelling for the Government to be confident reform would have the desired effect and not have undesired consequences. Nevertheless, the Government intends to continue to monitor the case and need for wider defamation reform. The immediate focus, however, is SLAPPs reform. To read the Government’s response document in full, click here.