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Warning the ‘SLAPP Happy’ Lawfare tactics targeting the progressive Left threaten Free Speech and our Democracy! US Website ‘anti-slapp.org’ alerts us to an alarming, rapidly growing trend as the UK seeks to emulate litigious hungry America; the acronym SLAPP stands for: Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. Here in the UK we are about to get slapped about quite a bit as we dare to pit public interest against political and Corporate power and greed. This imbalance of power used to manipulate justice or indeed yet another route for what should be, as the Judge who threw out an attempt to shut down a legitimate BDS campaign said, “an impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litigious means.” This dirty and disreputable legal battlefield is accruing its own terminology as we try to articulate the colossal danger that “Lawfare” poses to freedom of speech in our waning democracy. It is all out war to main freedom of the press and it challenges them to be more daring in exposing the truth, not less.
Elaborating on how things stand in the US this organization under, “Amendment to the United States Constitution,” say that, “Free speech and healthy debate are vital to the well-being of a democracy. In fact, the United States Supreme Court has said that the right to petition the government is the very foundation of our democracy.” I thought the UK shared that principal, yet at this very moment the US Government is seeking to extradite political prisoner, Journalist, Whistleblower Julian Assange currently being held under inhumane conditions in Belmarsh Prison. How could the extradition, conviction and incarceration of WikiLeaks Editor Julian Assange affect freedom of the press worldwide? It contravenes the protection offered by UN Treaties to ‘Political Prisoners: it will gag the press: sign two Petitions – RSF. It would establish an extremely dangerous precedent where a foreign national could be charged for an alleged ‘public interest Journalism crime’ committed anywhere in the world with US censorship enacted globally.
On their Website anti-slapp.org outline their goal, “The Public Participation Project (PPP) is currently working to pass federal anti-SLAPP legislation in Congress. Our coalition of supporters includes numerous organizations and businesses, as well as prominent individuals. PPP also assists individuals and organizations working to pass anti-SLAPP legislation in their states. An important part of our work includes educating the public about SLAPPs and the consequences of these lawsuits intended to limit free speech.” Under “Legal Resources” they wrote, “The Public Participation Project spent months drafting a balanced piece of legislation that provides excellent protection for First Amendment rights. Many of the sources are linked below, including seminal cases about the First Amendment rights of petition and free speech, and the history of protections for those rights. Materials on federalism issues, civil procedure, and other considerations in drafting federal anti-SLAPP legislation are also linked below.” In the UK; how can we learn to combat SLAPPs?
anti-slapp.org explain how Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation corrupt our justice system. They warn that, “These damaging suits chill free speech and healthy debate by targeting those who communicate with their government or speak out on issues of public interest. SLAPPs are used to silence and harass critics by forcing them to spend money to defend these baseless suits. SLAPP filers don’t go to court to seek justice. Rather, SLAPPS are intended to intimidate those who disagree with them or their activities by draining the target’s financial resources. SLAPPs are effective because even a meritless lawsuit can take years and many thousands of dollars to defend. To end or prevent a SLAPP, those who speak out on issues of public interest frequently agree to muzzle themselves, apologize, or ‘correct’ statements.” We have every right to be totally outraged when Labour, our main UK opposition Political Party, faced a SLAPP and Starmer capitulated with a huge settlement and an unjustified grovelling apology.
The Labour Party should have stood their ground and fought the case not just because they were in the right and their Lawyers advised them that they stood a good chance of winning the case, but because like most other SLAPP cases Ware would not have wanted to go to Court. But, this is the exact same reason you do not pay ransom money to a kidnapper, because all you manage to do is increase the likelihood of future kidnapping incidents! If the tactic pays off, morally bankrupt individuals like Ware will keep trying it on in the hope of another big payout. Starmer’s cowardly self-serving betrayal of the Labour membership, squandering their dues to bribe Ware, now has dozens of other fortune hunters getting ready to SLAPP Labour down so hard it will never get back up. But, the Labour Left knows better, as demonstrated by their overwhelming support for their venerated former Leader Jeremy Corbyn. We are all eagerly willing him to fight-back and countersue; with Legal Funds over £331,000, he has the means.
Starmer might try to fool himself that he has acted decisively and in a way that will impress the right faction, with his zero tolerance policy, but the reality is that he has opened the flood gates. Cocky after his triumphant drubbing of the Labour Party to humiliate, demonize and erase the Corbyn legacy, by coxing weak-willed Starmer into putting personal power and his pro-Israel, right-wing agenda before justice and truth, Ware has now set his sights on two Journalist at the Jewish Voice for Labour. He wants to use a SLAPP to silence or shut down this Jewish, pro-Palestinian critic of the Israeli apartheid Government and force the Zionist agenda of the BoD as the unchallenged voice representative of all Jews within the UK. In reality there are large segments of Jewish society here who to not conform to the Zionist cause or support Israeli persecution of the Palestinians or the theft of their land. The right-wing JLM and the BoD do not speak for all Jews, but those who don’t subscribe to their politics are labelled ‘self-hating Jews.’
To read the JVL response to this devastating news visit the JVL Website, as they get ready to fundraise where they say, “We are much encouraged by the flood of supportive messages and offers of financial help we have received since announcing that we are defending a libel action brought by John Ware against Jewish Voice for Labour and two of its officers. Solidarity in defence of principles and justice has been the driving force behind our work over the three years since JVL was founded, and we know this is what drives the many thousands of progressives, Jews and otherwise, who share our perspective. So, as well as seeking your support contesting litigation against us, we are also supporting fundraising for legal action planned by some Labour Party members who, like so many others, have found no other avenue for challenging injustices they have faced under the party’s disciplinary processes. Their aim, with our support, is to end those injustices and make those processes fit for purpose from now on.”
Like a virus the pernicious Lawfare of SLAPPs spreads rampantly out of control; what did Starmer unleash? He might want to be remembered as ‘Forensic’ with a distinctive ‘ism,’ but to his dismay that might just be ‘Starmer Capitulism!’ Press Gang’s Editor Paddy French is also fending off a SLAPP. Press Gang say that, “Ware’s action concerns the Press Gang report, ‘Is The BBC Anti-Labour? Panorama’s Biased Anti-Semitism Reporting: A Case To Answer.’ John Ware claims this publication is ‘seriously defamatory’.” His demands include, “a full retraction; an apology; a statement to be read out in open court and payment of substantial damages and legal costs. Mark Lewis of Patron Law, who acts for Ware, has agreed a ‘conditional fee arrangement’ where the firm acts for Ware on a no-win, no-fee basis. In addition. Patron Law has taken out insurance which limits Ware’s exposure should he lose. This means that if Press Gang fails to win, the website will also be liable for the cost of the insurance.”
Press Gang say they have, “instructed the London solicitors Bindmans to act for Paddy French. In a statement, issued today (April 15) Paddy French said “It’s clear John Ware feels our report is an attack on his professional integrity.” They said, “Press Gang feels equally strongly that the report met the highest standards of ethical journalism — and we’ll be defending it strongly. We’re confident it was a fair criticism of a contentious piece of broadcasting and that a court will agree with us. But we cannot get to that point without your help.” According to Press Gang they, “asked the BBC if it was supporting John Ware’s action. A spokesperson told us ‘the BBC won’t be commenting.’ In a 21st of April Update Press Gang said, “Yesterday our lawyers, Bindmans, replied to the letter from John Ware’s solicitor claiming the Press Gang pamphlet ‘Is The BBC Anti-Labour?’ is ‘seriously defamatory’.”
Bindmans letter says, “editor Paddy French has ‘complete defences’ under section 2 (Truth), section 3 (Honest Opinion) and section 4 (Public Interest) of the Defamation Act 2013.” They conclude: ‘The defamatory allegations against your client are matters of opinion, based on the facts set out in the… report.’ ‘Mr French is surprised that an experienced journalist like your client has threatened libel proceedings rather than joining in public debate and we invite you to withdraw the threat forthwith.’ ‘In the event that your client commences legal proceedings then the matter will be vigorously defended.” They say, “John Ware’s solicitor, Mark Lewis of Patron Law, has acknowledged receipt of the letter and says he will reply by the end of the month.” Press Gang’s appeal now over £18,500 exceeded its initial £5,000 target. “It’s often said that libel is a rich man’s game,” said Paddy French. “In this case, the support of 200 people is helping to level the playing field. It’s also a vote of confidence in the integrity of Press Gang journalism.”
Where does this end? These litigants use ‘no win, no fee’ Lawyers with backup insurance coverage to further reduce risk; we must render this option totally unviable with no insurer willing to cover that risk. Arron Banks has hit Guardian Investigative Journalist Carole Cadwalladr with a SLAPP for reporting his less than transparent, or downright dodgy, funding of the Brexit Vote Leave Campaign, alleging potential Russian connections. A number of civil liberties groups including, Reporters Without Borders (RSF); ARTICLE 19; European Federation of Journalists (EFJ); European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF); Greenpeace UK; Index on Censorship; PEN International and Scottish PEN all signed a letter drafted by Reporters Without Borders. Anyone interested in contacting RSF UK, their Press contact: RSF UK Bureau Director Rebecca Vincent on [email protected] or +44 (0)207 324 8903. These free speech champions all rallied to Cadwalladr’s defence drafting a letter that all of these civil liberties groups signed; it is printed on their Website as below.
“We, the undersigned organisations, welcome today’s judgment on meaning in the case of Arron Banks vs Carole Cadwalladr. The judgment clarified the context of the comments that form the basis of this lawsuit, and noted that aspects of the claimant’s argument were ‘far-fetched and divorced from the specific context in which those words were used’. We consider this case to be an example of a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP), as it is vexatious in nature and intended to silence Cadwalladr’s courageous investigative journalism. We call on Banks to drop this abusive lawsuit and cease efforts to stifle public interest reporting.
We note with concern the abusive approach Banks has taken in targeting Cadwalladr as an individual on the basis of comments she made orally – including a single sentence in a TED talk – and on Twitter, rather than similar reporting that had been published in the Guardian. Cadwalladr is a laureate of Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom prize – and a series of prestigious journalism prizes – for her courageous reporting on the subversion of democratic processes in the US and UK. As such, she has explored the funding of Banks’ Leave.EU campaign and questioned Banks’ ties to Russia following the leak of documents exposing the Russian government’s offer of a gold and diamond deal to Banks – serious matters that are clearly of high public interest.
We are alarmed by the increasing use of SLAPP lawsuits as a means of attempting to silence public interest reporting – a trend that is posing a growing threat to freedom of expression internationally. We reiterate our call for the UK government to address this as a matter of priority, including through the consideration of anti-SLAPP legislation. We also encourage support for Cadwalladr’s crowdfunder to build up a team to pursue further investigative reporting into data, disinformation and democracy, and show that such bullying tactics will not be successful in silencing critical reporting.”
So does that make Williamson’s legal challenge directed at the Equality and Human Rights Commission for making accusations that defame him a SLAPP? Good question, but emphatically and categorically no! While EHRC are supposedly an independent public body acting in the public’s best interests by exposing wrongdoing, Williamson’s concerns will undoubtedly focus on false allegation for which, despite an in-depth investigation, no evidence has been produced. If this were not the case Williamson would not be so determined to go to Court; that is the major difference Williamson is not seeking to avoid Court and bluff his way to a substantial payout. Beyond any personal desire to clear his name Williamson is also driven by a powerful and legitimate public interest obligation to expose corruption and party political bias within EHRC that poses a very serious threat to the integrity of our UK democracy. As the litigant Williamson is in the driving seat with no intention of settling for less than full exposure of EHRC bias.
Why is this so important right now? During this miserable decade of austerity and rampant privatization the corrupt Tory Party have infiltrated every aspect of Governance; reaching well beyond the bounds of democratic votes in Parliament, to unfairly stack the deck in all of our regulatory bodies. The Tory strategy for these supposedly independent bodies includes: Dominating, Deviating, Defunding, Disempowering or Dissolving to remove all scrutiny and accountability from the Government and eliminate our checks and balances. The EHRC has seen ethnic minorities removed and replaced by wealthy business elites dominating decisions to match Tory goals.. The already amalgamated body has significantly deviated from its core goals and faced massive defunding. While not yet disempowered the power they do wield has been ruthlessly weaponized to attack the opposition Labour Party and derail the public vote in the Covert 2019 Rigged Election with baseless accusations and toxic propaganda: this violates the law!
Why do I feel so passionately about this issue, the sanctity of genuine Whistleblowers like Assange and so deeply aggrieved that Ware and the ‘Poison Dartblowers’ succeeded in landing a costly SLAPP on the Labour Party? Although I myself brought lawsuit against an NHS Trust and my University, my case was most definitely not a SLAPP. I paid careful attention to the public good by decided not to demand huge damages, instead taking the moral high ground to accomplish certain important goals in the public interest: essentially public good must always be the litmus test. Keir Starmer has capitulated against the public good, sacrificing Labour party members dues and the public good for his own selfish political ambitions. This chronic injustice can only be rectified by going to Court to expose the truth so we must support this legal process with resounding solidarity. We cannot allow this vital process to be negated or stalled for time as we have just a few short months before crash-out Brexit ends all democracy in the UK.
Exposure of the baseless smear campaign used to sell the fake ‘landslide victory’ ‘borrowed votes’ lie of the Covert 2019 Rigged Election will be publically revealed at last. There is a distinct possibility that the payment of state funds to the Integrity Initiative to spread propaganda targeting the Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party can be highlighted among the evidence submitted in at least one of the cases. This constitutes illegal sabotage of the Electoral process quite aside from the highly suspicious postal votes outsourced to Idox beyond the monitoring or inspection of the toothless Electoral Commission. The public must demand tougher scrutiny and “Rescue our Watchdog” as “A Watchdog that cannot watch is just a dog.” The disreputable role the BBC, played in disseminating Tory propaganda for the Covert 2019 Rigged Election will further render the unfathomable result invalid so we can demand a full Investigation and immediate removal of this Tory Government to enable the UK to hold free and fair elections. DO NOT MOVE ON!