UK legal regulator warns lawyers will face 'action' over SLAPPs

REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao
  • Solicitors told to not get involved in 'abusive litigation'
  • Solicitors Regulation Authority investigating 29 cases

(Reuters) - Lawyers who threaten “meritless” lawsuits or who deliberately increase the costs of litigation are likely to face disciplinary action, a legal regulator for solicitors in England and Wales warned on Monday.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has issued a “warning notice” to solicitors, lawyers who generally deal directly with clients rather than argue in court, on concern over the use of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP).

The SRA told lawyers to “guard against getting involved in abusive litigation aimed at silencing legitimate critics”.

Its chief executive, Paul Philip, said in a statement that solicitors “should not be misusing litigation to prevent legitimate scrutiny from journalists, academics and campaigners”, adding that “when solicitors cross the line into SLAPPs, we will take action”.

Lawyers should be able to identify courses of conduct which “could be defined as SLAPPs, or are otherwise abusive, and decline to act in this way”, the SRA said in its warning notice.

The regulator also said that “unduly aggressive and intimidating threats” to potential defendants or exaggerating the consequences of a possible lawsuit are “matters of concern and are likely to result in regulatory action”.

The SRA is currently investigating 29 cases where law firms might be involved in SLAPPs, it added.

SLAPPs – which can be used to intimidate journalists, academics and campaigners – have particularly been in the spotlight since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In recent years, Russian billionaires and large businesses have used London courts to sue those who have published writing critical of them.

British lawmakers and campaigners have called for legislation on the use of so-called “lawfare” and, in July, the British government set out plans to tackle SLAPPs, including the application by the court of a three-part assessment before allowing a lawsuit to progress and the introduction of early dismissal procedure.

There is currently no specific anti-SLAPP legislation in force in Britain.

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