Free speech is stifled by laws made for the rich
David Davis MP is of course right to highlight the threat to free speech and democracy posed by so-called Slapp actions – strategic lawsuits against public participation – brought by oligarchs in British courts (Democracy is at risk. We can’t let oligarchs exploit British courts to silence their critics, 29 November).
Sadly, attacks on freedom of speech and speaking truth to power in the UK are not the exclusive preserve of rich and powerful foreigners seeking to exploit an advantageous legal trade that successive UK governments have done little to discourage.
By focusing on bad actors from overseas, Davis’s article ignores some notable and, some might argue, vexatious actions brought by rich UK citizens and corporations who have sought to use wealth and influence to target individual journalists and publications. In seeking to extol the exceptionalism of British values and institutions, he also overlooks how constitutional safeguards have been weakened since 2019 and his government’s intention to further legislate against the rights to protest, to strike and even vote in elections. These are not the acts of unscrupulous foreigners, although they are actions of which they and their governments may well approve.
• Full marks to David Davis for trying to tackle the problem of journalists being threatened by strategic lawsuits. He claims that the government has picked up the problem; unfortunately, it has also picked up the habit. Threatening organisations like the Good Law Project with unprecedented and unjustified costs if they lose cases brought against dubious government practices is designed to prevent ministers being held properly accountable. I await with interest what progress there is, if any, on legislation against lawfare.
Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire
• I was pleased and surprised to read that David Davis understands that British libel laws are a threat to British freedoms. I have been a book publisher for over 30 years. In all that time, whenever a libel accusation arrived on my desk, I always responded in the same way. I immediately apologised, and promised to remove the book from our list immediately.
My response had nothing to do with the justice of the accusation. British libel laws intentionally make the assumption that the accused is guilty and therefore has to prove their innocence. The system was designed to support the rich and famous. When a libel accusation arrived, any small publisher’s entire business was at risk. The only chance of survival was to immediately admit guilt and plead poverty.
Roger van Zwanenberg
Publisher, Zed Press and Pluto Books, 1976-2012
• I disagree with David Davis on almost everything, but he is absolutely right on the misuse of our courts by the super-rich. He outlines several useful statutory reforms, but misses one way of limiting spurious time-wasting cases. Lawyers are supposed to advise clients on the likelihood of winning a case. They could be required by the Law Society to withdraw from a spurious case as a matter of professional ethics. This would provide an ethical means for a lawyer to drop such cases, and a means of disciplining unscrupulous lawyers who fail to do so.
Dr Robert Forde
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