Rich clientele and oligarchs from autocratic countries are making use of prestigious London law companies to intimidate and silence journalists, MPs have mentioned.
A cross-party team of MPs called on ministers to introduce legislation to avoid deep-pocketed persons and powerful firms from misusing the legal technique to “intimidate and destroy” reporters.
Speaking in a discussion in the Residence of Commons on Thursday, the MPs urged the government to far better secure the media and citizens from abusive legal action acknowledged as strategic lawsuits versus public participation, or Slapps.
Lawyers and campaigners describe Slapps as a variety of legal harassment that exploits lengthy and high priced legal methods to silence journalists, critics and watchdogs.
David Davis, a Conservative MP and previous cabinet minister, mentioned “nefarious” actors were being working with the justice procedure “to threaten, intimidate and put the dread of God into British journalists, citizens, officials and media organisations.”
Davis explained these practices as “lawfare” and cited recent examples exactly where reporters experienced faced “reputational and monetary wreck in defending them selves from these malevolent cases”.
The MPs drew certain interest to the work of a sequence of elite English legislation corporations that specialise in bringing cases towards the media.
Davis stated: “It is quite crystal clear that some London-primarily based law companies have located an very successful niche that they are ready to pursue with no far too significantly concern about the consequence. I believe the skilled bodies for those people legislation firms need to be hunting extremely tricky at them, as need to the governing administration.”
A different Tory MP, Bob Seely, explained the United kingdom had a “cottage business of lawfare”. He claimed: “If we allow for the most cancers of the advertising of intimidation solutions by substantial-finish legal companies, it will not do us any great in the extended run, just as in the lengthy operate letting mafias launder revenue would also be undesirable for us.”
He extra: “We want to bring in anti-Slapp legislation, and we need to have to go following those attorneys – dare I get in touch with them slappers – who use such tactics.”
The MPs highlighted new scenarios brought against investigative journalists which includes the Financial Occasions reporter Tom Burgis, who is the subject of libel actions introduced by the Kazakh mining enterprise ENRC, and Catherine Belton, the writer of a the latest book about Vladimir Putin, who final 12 months faced a barrage of libel steps brought by many Russian billionaires and the point out-controlled oil organization Rosneft.
Two MPs, Seely and Labour’s Liam Byrne, criticised English corporations like Mishcon de Reya, Schillings, Harbottle & Lewis, CMS and Carter-Ruck.
Sir Robert Neill, who chairs the Commons justice pick committee, said he hoped ministers would look at anti-Slapp legislation but advised MPs that “there are incredibly significant laws relating to the perform of regulation firms in the United Kingdom”.
“We ought to not mischaracterise the posture by stating that there is a large degree of cynicism in the legal occupation there is not, and I do not feel that there is a failure of regulation both,” he included.
Responding to the debate, the justice minister, James Cartlidge, agreed that Slapps actions “represent an abuse of the authorized system”, but reported the authorities “must be cautious to reply to Slapps in a proportionate way that proceeds our tradition of balancing personal legal rights with the general public good”.
Contacted for comment, a spokesperson for Mishcon de Reya did not supply an on-the-history assertion for publication. Schillings, CMS, Harbottle & Lewis and Carter-Ruck did not reply to a ask for for comment.