On 14 November, Professor Ursula Smartt, a visiting fellow at Leeds Beckett University, will discuss Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) in a guest lecture.
These lawsuits have become a weapon to muzzle journalists and whistleblowers seeking to bring matters of public interest to light.
Professor Smartt is an associate professor of law at Northeastern University London. She will spotlight the tactics employed by law firms in SLAPP cases.
These include sending intimidating correspondence to individuals and businesses, leveraging claims and letters that lack legal validity but aim to suppress voices that strive to uncover the truth.
The focus on SLAPPs intensified in 2021 when Roman Abramovich, among other Russian tycoons, took legal action against journalist Catherine Belton. Belton wrote a book titled “Putin’s People.” Belton claimed that Abramovich acquired Chelsea Football Club on Vladimir Putin’s orders. This triggered a legal onslaught against her and her publishers, HarperCollins. This high-profile case illustrates how individuals can use SLAPPs to silence investigative journalism.
While SLAPPs have been a growing concern, there is a glimmer of progress with the UK’s recent enactment of its first ‘anti-SLAPP’ law in October. However, SLAPP abuse currently affects other vital areas of public interest as the legal safeguard is confined to cases involving economic crimes.
As a visiting fellow at Leeds Beckett University, Professor Ursula Smartt, with her expertise in media and entertainment law, promises to dissect the nuances of SLAPPs in her lecture. The lecture will explore the legal landscape surrounding SLAPPs, shedding light on the challenges faced by journalists and whistleblowers.
This lecture is presented by Leeds Business School and Leeds Law School. It marks a crucial step in understanding and combatting the world of legal intimidation that jeopardises the foundations of a free society.