Solicitors witnessing behaviour bearing the hallmarks of SLAPP (strategic litigation against public participation) should remember their obligations to report it to the regulator, according to updated advice.
Latest guidance on 'Conduct in disputes', published last Friday, states that the Solicitors Regulation Authority is 'aware of concerns' surrounding SLAPP. Features of such cases may include 'excessive or meritless claims, aggressive and intimidating threats' or 'otherwise acting in a way which fails to meet the wider public interest principles'.
Such behaviour can be evidence of misconduct, which solicitors have a duty to report, the guidance states.
Overall, the guidance warns against making allegations without merit 'where the sole purpose is to stifle valid public discourse'. Noting that the rule of law provides a right to legal advice and representation for all, it states 'proceedings must be pursued properly and that means making sure that duties to a client do not override wider public interest obligations and duties to the court'.
The issue of SLAPP actions in defamation cases has rise up the political agenda in recent weeks. The House of Commons will his is to consider an amendment to the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill proposed by Conservative MP David Davis and Labour MP Liam Byrne which would require the government to institute an inquiry into cases intended to intimidate journalists and campaigners. The bill received its second reading this afternoon.
In a joint statement, the MPs said: 'We’re determined to build a cross-party coalition to ensure the reforms before parliament, designed to expunge from London the problem of dirty money, ensure that oligarchs of any nation can no longer use the English legal system against ordinary citizens, journalists and civil servants to silence free speech.'