In Anglo-Saxon legal jargon they are known as SLAPP (Strategig Lawsuits against Public Participation, or Strategy for Complaints against Public Participation). In simple terms, they refer to the ease with which the British courts have allowed the Russian oligarchs – not only them, but they have been the main beneficiaries – to intimidate with a cascade of defamation lawsuits the media that dared to publish something in their against. Faced with the economic and personal losses they faced, many of them chose to throw in the towel.
More than 70 newspaper headlines, as well as law firms, have sent a letter on Tuesday to the British Minister of Justice, Dominic Raab, in which they ask the Government to fulfill the promise it announced in its first reactions to the Russian invasion of Ukraine: Put an end to such abuses in the UK justice system. “This is an endemic problem in newsrooms, publishers and social organizations. In an era of increasing financial vulnerability of the information industries, it is all too easy to use those abusive legal tactics that end investigations and block media accounts, “says the text.
Newspapers and agencies such as Financial Times, The Times, Guardian, Daily Mail either Bloomberg. The bloodiest case, in the memory of all of them, is that of the journalist Catherine Belton, who was a correspondent in Moscow for the Financial Times. his book, Putin’s People (Putin’s men, edited by PlanetadeLibros), had to face the millionaire costs caused by the cascade of lawsuits filed against the journalist and the publisher Harper-Collins by the oligarch Roman Abramóvich, then the powerful owner of Chelsea Football Club, or Mijail Fridman, owner of the Russian oil company Rosneft. Despite these being minor corrections, the publisher had to apologize and accept that some information in the book referring to Abramóvich was not correct. Sanctions against the oligarch, due to his direct links to Vladimir Putin’s regime, forced him to relinquish ownership of Chelsea and disappear from the UK front scene, which he had dominated smoothly for years.
The bill promoted by the United Kingdom’s Anti-SLAPP Coalition, which brings together the signatories of the letter sent to the Minister of Justice, requires three very simple responses to the legal strategy of the oligarchs: minimal costs for the defendants, high costs for the plaintiffs —with a dissuasive purpose— and a quick resolution in the courts, so that it does not become a way of freezing any journalistic investigation or publication for years. “The purpose of this law is to protect and promote the ability of individuals and organizations to participate in the public debate, advance the demand for accountability, and be able to raise their voices in matters of public interest, and in turn prevent the use of the courts to undermine these rights through abusive demands”, says the bill in its first provision.
“The abuse of the UK legal system by powerful individuals and special interests to intimidate journalists should be considered a national shame. The British Government has taken this issue seriously for the first time in a generation, and this proposed law presents a clear opportunity for Downing Street to turn its good intentions into reality and pass legislative measures without delay”, said the director of GuardianKatharine Viner.
Join EL PAÍS to follow all the news and read without limits.
The attempt to incorporate the project into the legal body of the new Economic Crimes Law, also modified to prosecute Russian oligarchs, was met with rejection by the government, which advocates separate legislation to give judges the power to reject SLAPP. “It is a matter of the greatest importance, and it is being studied with great urgency. We will propose the processing of a new law as soon as possible”, has promised the government of Rishi Sunak.
Follow all the international information on Facebook Y Twitteror in our weekly newsletter.