The Anti-SLAPP Research Hub at the University of Aberdeen’s School of Law has written to the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee to support a call for the introduction of anti-SLAPP legislation in Scotland. Unlike litigation to enforce legitimate rights, SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) are abusive lawsuits in which the pursuer seeks to use the cost of legal proceedings to chill free speech on matters of public interest.
In its letter, available for perusal here, the Aberdeen research grouping noted that draft anti-SLAPP legislation has been introduced in the European Union, and that it is government policy to introduce similar legislation in England and Wales. Anti-SLAPP laws empower courts to dismiss unfounded claims at an early stage and include deterrent measures such as penalties and fines to dissuade the institution of such claims. In the absence of similar Scottish legislation, Scottish courts risk becoming a preferred forum for powerful economic and political actors who seek to suppress public scrutiny.
Dr Francesca Farrington and Prof Justin Borg-Barthet, writing on behalf of the Anti-SLAPP Research Hub, welcomed the refinements to Scots Law of defamation introduced through the Defamation and Malicious Publication (Scotland) Act 2021. They argued, however, that these reforms are insufficient to dissuade the threat of SLAPPs through Scottish Courts: “In the absence of legislative intervention, the policy underpinnings of the 2021 Act risk being undermined by misuse of legal procedure.”
The School of Law at the University of Aberdeen has been at the forefront of efforts to combat SLAPPs in Europe since 2017. Following the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, a Maltese investigative journalist who had been subject to numerous international SLAPPs, scholars in Aberdeen embarked on multiple research projects to support freedom of expression in Europe. They provided advice to the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE), the European Parliament and the European Commission, as well as co-authoring a Model Law which provided the basis for discussions concerning the EU’s draft Anti-SLAPP Directive.
The Anti-SLAPP Research Hub was established in 2022 to strengthen the University of Aberdeen’s long-term commitment to furthering freedom of expression and the rule of law. It brings together expertise across a range of legal disciplines, including human rights law, freedom of information, privacy and data protection, private international law, EU law, dispute resolution, and substantive defamation law. It is composed of Dr Gloria Alvarez, Prof Justin Borg-Barthet (Convener), Dr Eliza Bechtold (Public Engagement Officer), Dr Rossana Ducato, Dr Francesca Farrington (Public Engagement Officer), Dr Erin Ferguson (Deputy Convener), Prof Greg Gordon, Dr Michiel Poesen (Publications Officer), and Magdalena Zabrocka (Events Officer).