The Government has launched a new task force whose aim is to end trials that have a “devastating” impact on journalists.
Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer will meet with media and legal sector groups on Monday as they try to end legal threats, known as strategic lawsuits against public participation (Slapps).
This action is often used by wealthy individuals and companies to try to prevent journalists or activists from exposing wrongdoing under defamation and privacy laws.
Ms Frazer said: “When I became Culture Secretary, I promised to champion independent voices and foster a thriving media landscape that champions and champions telling the truth without fear.
“The slaps have led to journalists having to crowdfund their legal fees and some have even been forced to sell their homes, simply to do their work.
“Working alongside industry leaders, we will develop robust measures that improve press freedom to expose wrongdoing without fear that our justice system will be abused to silence journalists.”
Russian oligarchs have previously used Slapps to silence their critics in recent years.
Ms Belton was made an MBE for services to journalism in the New Year Honors list and previously urged the Government to introduce legislation to tackle Slapps.
Reporters Without Borders UK bureau director Fiona O’Brien said: “Slapping can have a devastating impact on the journalists involved and their ability to report freely on matters of public interest, so we are very pleased to see the establishment of a task force that recognizes them as a serious and pressing threat.
“This is a welcome step to ensure UK journalists are better protected against such abusive and damaging claims.”
His organization is joined in the working group by groups such as the Society of Editors, the National Union of Journalists and the Law Society of England and Wales.
Earlier this year, the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill was amended to clamp down on Slapps involving economic crime, which the Government says make up the vast majority of such cases brought to UK courts.
The bill, which has completed its third reading in the House of Lords, aims to establish an early dismissal mechanism to make it easier for courts in England and Wales to quickly dismiss Slapps relating to economic offences, according to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ ). .
“The Government has also committed to legislating to tackle slapping economic crimes as soon as parliamentary time allows,” the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said.
The new working group will commission research to investigate the prevalence of Slapps used against journalists and explore how the regulation of legal services could be used to prevent or mitigate the legal problem. In parallel, the body will draw up plans for new specialized training for judges and legal professionals to help them easily identify and rule out Slapps and develop guidance to support journalists, publications or legal professionals.
A report published in April by the Thomson Reuters Foundation found that 47.6 percent of respondents worldwide said they or their media organization faced legal threats and since 2015 concluded that Slapp cases have “increased.” substantially”.
The task force, which will focus on non-legislative measures, will report on its findings in its 12-month mandate, DCMS said.