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UK plans clampdown on ‘lawfare’ by oligarchs and highly effective elites

The UK has introduced plans to clamp down on using the courts by Russian oligarchs and highly effective elites to “weaponise” litigation as a method of silencing critics and shielding themselves from scrutiny.

Dominic Raab, deputy prime minister and justice secretary, will on Thursday set out proposals to guard free speech and cease rich firms and businesspeople utilizing the courts in England and Wales to lodge libel lawsuits referred to as Strategic Lawsuits Towards Public Participation (SLAPPs).

MPs have expressed concern that deep-pocketed litigants, together with Russian oligarchs, have used the specter of authorized motion to stifle free speech and discourage media scrutiny of their monetary affairs as a result of publishers face sky-high authorized prices to defend a court docket case, even when it has little or no benefit.

Tory MP David Davis advised the Home of Commons in January that the worry of libel lawsuits, dubbed “lawfare”, is inflicting a “chilling impact” on the free press and that the English court docket system was being utilized by “these with nefarious intentions” to “threaten, intimidate and put the worry of God into British journalists, residents, officers and media organisations”.

“Some newspapers hesitate to cowl sure matters, such because the affect of Russian oligarchs, for worry of pricey litigation,” Davis advised MPs.

Author Catherine Belton speaks on the Home of Commons overseas affairs choose committee on Tuesday © Parliamentlive.television

Catherine Belton, creator of Putin’s Folks, a e book that particulars the rise to energy of Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, and her writer HarperCollins, had been sued final 12 months by 4 Russian oligarchs together with Roman Abramovich, who has now been positioned below sanctions, and Russian state-run firm Rosneft. The lawsuits had been later settled or withdrawn.

Testifying earlier than the Home of Commons overseas affairs choose committee on Tuesday, Belton — a former Monetary Instances journalist who now works for Reuters — mentioned the lawsuits had price the writer £1.5mn to defend and will have price £5mn in authorized prices if the instances had gone to trial.

Raab will sign on Thursday that the proposals are geared toward defending the free press and making certain the super-rich couldn’t “weaponise” litigation to close down scrutiny. “The federal government won’t tolerate Russian oligarchs and different corrupt elites abusing British courts to muzzle those that shine a light-weight on their wrongdoing.”

The federal government is analyzing a number of choices for reform — together with amending the Defamation Act 2013 to strengthen the general public curiosity defence, which supplies safety to publishers if their reporting is within the public curiosity.

Different choices being thought of embrace capping the authorized prices that litigants can get well in court docket instances, permitting judges to throw out spurious claims at an earlier stage in authorized proceedings and imposing court docket orders to forestall folks from bringing repeated authorized instances.

Raab has launched a name for proof that runs till Could 19, with ministers to announce the following steps for reform after the responses have been thought of.

Boris Johnson, prime minister, mentioned in an announcement: “For the oligarchs and super-rich who can afford these sky-high prices the specter of authorized motion had turn out to be a brand new sort of lawfare. We should put a cease to its chilling impact.”

Daybreak Alford, government director of the Society of Editors, welcomed the session and mentioned that SLAPPs had a “chilling impact” on public curiosity journalism and “pose a grave menace to media freedom”.

Michelle Stanistreet, normal secretary of the Nationwide Union of Journalists, mentioned the commerce union would welcome strikes to make sure media shops “now not must face prohibitive prices and deliberate intimidation by rich litigants with the deepest of pockets”.

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