The head of the UK’s Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has vowed to crack down on the use of spurious lawsuits to silence legitimate criticism.
In an article in The Times, SRA chief executive Paul Philip said the watchdog is “committed to cracking down” on law firms using so-called ‘strategic lawsuits against public participation’ (Slapps).
The watchdog chief said Slapps “pose a clear and present danger to the rule of law, free speech and free press” by preventing legitimate scrutiny of “the rich and powerful”.
He noted the issue has come to the forefront since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine due to fears Slapps may be used “by oligarchs and corporations close to Putin.”
The start of the war in Ukraine saw the UK’s Ministry of Justice (MoJ) work to tackle the use of Slapps, following a series of high-profile libel cases.
In March, the SRA issued guidance warning law firms against the use of “abusive litigation tactics” to stifle valid criticism.
Philip said the SRA is currently developing further guidance around law firms’ use of “oppressive litigation behaviour and tactics,” including the act of labelling libel threats as private or confidential.
The SRA chief executive said the regulator will however seek to balance its actions on Slapps “with the need for solicitors to be able to bring legitimate claims on behalf of clients”.