The solicitors’ watchdog has launched more than 20 investigations into UK law firms over their involvement in SLAPP lawsuits, as part of its efforts to crack down on the use of Britain’s libel laws to silence the press and other legitimate criticism.
The Solicitor’s Regulation Authority (SRA) now has more than 20 open cases over allegations of wrongdoing around use of so-called “strategic lawsuits against public participation,” according to the Law Society Gazette.
The news comes after the SRA in March published new guidance warning firms against using “excessive or meritless” libel claims and “abusive litigation tactics” to stifle reporting on or investigation of serious concerns around corruption.
SRA chief executive Chris Philip said the watchdog will also publish new guidance around SLAPPs in the coming weeks, with a view to putting firms “on notice of the behaviours that are unacceptable”.
The crackdown comes as lawyers have faced mounting scrutiny in recent months over the role that they – and other professional services providers including accountants and PR people – have played in enabling Russian oligarchs and allies of Vladimir Putin.
The heightened scrutiny towards Britain’s “professional enablers” comes as the war in Ukraine has increased political momentum around efforts to tackle Russia’s plutocrats.
The efforts in March saw the UK’s Ministry of Justice (MoJ) open a consultation on SLAPPs, as justice secretary Dominic Raab said the government “will not tolerate Russian oligarchs and other corrupt elites abusing British courts to muzzle those who shine a light on their wrongdoing.
In the same week, journalists Tom Burgis and Catherine Belton told MPs they had been subject to a barrage of legal threats from oligarchs including Roman Abramovich over their investigations into Vladimir Putin and others with links to the Kremlin.