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  • Writer's pictureInternational Lawyers Project

Legal advice and Representation in a UK SLAPP Suit

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Situation 


Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) suits have long generated controversy, since they are often used as tools to intimidate and silence critics, burdening them with the costs of legal defence. Initiated against individuals or entities with the primary aim of stifling freedom of expression and participation in public discourse, the intent behind these suits is rarely to win the legal battle, but instead to inhibit public criticism through protracted and expensive legal proceedings. This tactic can deter other potential critics, effectively suppressing public participation or dissent.


In 2022, Mohamed Amersi, a telecoms businessman and donor to the Tory party since 2018, sued Charlotte Leslie, the Director of the Conservative Middle East Council (CMEC) and a former Member of Parliament, for libel. He claimed several documents that she had circulated to influential individuals (including current or former Conservative MPs, the former Tory co-chair, and Bahrain’s ambassador to the UK) between late December 2020 and early January 2021 were defamatory, and demanded a full apology.  This included allegations that Amersi posed a threat to the national security of the UK and that he had close ties to the Russian regime. The libel suit filed against Leslie appeared to be a SLAPP because the primary objective of the suit was to harass, intimidate, and financially drain Leslie of her resources. It was designed to silence free speech and prevent discussions on matters of public interest.


ILP’s Action 


ILP’s volunteer lawyers provided legal advice to Charlotte Leslie and represented her in the libel suit filed against her by Mohamed Amersi before the UK High Court. On 7 June 2023, the High Court struck out the SLAPP suit, finding that Amersi had failed to establish serious harm had been caused to his reputation as a result of sharing the memos. The judge also noted that Amersi was not truly seeking vindication based on his approach to the litigation, and it appeared that he only used the libel action as an opportunity to embarrass the Conservative party for having wronged him. Amersi filed a permission to appeal. However, on 23 November 2023, the Court of Appeal judges refused him permission, finding no compelling reason to hear an appeal.


Impact 


The judgment is a victory for free speech, demonstrating how SLAPP suits before UK courts can be defended.  It also highlighted the need for policy reforms and how the judiciary can ensure there is no abuse of the legal process.

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