in the back
Slapp down
Freedom of speech, Issue 1611
LEGAL WRANGLE: Lawyers have tried to silence lawyer and author David Hooper
IF YOU have tears, prepare to shed them now. A group of the country's best-paid media lawyers have written to the Law Society to complain that the debate about Slapps – strategic lawsuits against public participation brought by very rich people to halt public interest journalism about their activities – and the government's avowed intention to stamp the practice out, is vewwy, vewwy unfair.

"Our members are concerned that the narrative advanced by certain elements in the media and by pressure groups is a false one, which grossly exaggerates the problem, and unfairly singles out media lawyers for criticism," sniffles the newly formed Society of Media Lawyers, chaired by former Schillings partner and current head of reputation protection at Simkins, Gideon Benaim.

His group includes no fewer than eight members from Carter-Fuck, five from Russell Brand's favourites Thomson Heath & Associates, and one chair of a "press freedom campaign" in the form of Hugh Tomlinson KC.

Nothing to see here!
In fact, it turns out there is no problem at all. "Abusive litigation does occasionally take place, but in our collective experience, it is rare and no more common in this area than any other," the group claims.

Complaining that "the media and regulatory frenzy that has been whipped up about Slapps has been particularly damaging to a number of lawyers and the profession generally", the group demands that the Law Society cease "accepting, as an established fact, that there is a Slapp issue requiring a legislative response... there being a complete absence of independent evidence to support this view".

It requests that its own members immediately be appointed to all relevant taskforces and committees as new legislation is drafted, so they can properly represent the rights of traduced oligarchs everywhere.

The Law Society, representing solicitors, has acknowledged receipt of the letter, pointing out it "has to balance its position carefully taking into account the interests of members – both claimant and defendant – access to justice and the rule of law... We are happy to hear all positions."

Jumping on Hooper
Lo and behold, the very same week came a further demonstration that the problem is entirely imaginary when an author launching his own book on Slapps was hit with what he identified as... a Slapp.

Veteran lawyer David Hooper had barely poured the plonk and doled out the cheese straws at the launch of Buying Silence: How Oligarchs, Corporations and Plutocrats Use the Law to Gag their Critics when a letter arrived from solicitors Payne Hicks Beach on behalf of businessman and Conservative adviser Carl Hunter.

Written by Hanna Basha – formerly of both Schillings and Carter-Fuck – it said her client was deeply concerned about his appearance in an extract from Hooper's book which had run in the Times on 26 October, giving an account of the multiple vindictive legal proceedings brought by Tory donor Mohamed Amersi against ex-MP Charlotte Leslie (Eyes passim).

Hooper retold the well-worn tale of how Hunter, acting as an "unofficial mediator" in the dispute, made phone calls to Leslie urging her to make a grovelling apology to Amersi, informing her she'd face "a world of pain" and should consider "her position as in being able to walk the dog at night and being able to sleep at night" – as put before the world in the Commons by David Davis MP.

At the time Amersi, who hired private detectives to keep tabs on Leslie and gather information, denied knowledge of Hunter's threats. The phone call from Hunter was well reported, not least in the Eye (1566, 1568, 1571), in the Observer, and also in the Daily Mail, which has had a four-and-a-half-minute recording of the calls available on its website since January 2022.

Demanding Times
Hunter's complaint to press watchdog Ipso that the Mail article was inaccurate and had breached his privacy was dismissed a year ago. Now, however, Basha was demanding not only that the relevant passages be removed from the Times website, but also the book, at that point printed and due out shortly.

Unfortunately Hooper is familiar with the most recent advice from the Solicitors Regulation Authority – a regulatory and operationally independent arm of the Law Society – seeking to crack down on Slapps.

He pointed out the letter did not contain confidential material as the subject matter had been "prominently published" already, and it had failed to state what defamatory meaning the words were supposed to bear.

Hooper concluded: "Your complaint has a number of the hallmarks of a Slapp complaint and indeed the purpose appears to be to prevent my book being published." The SRA having deprecated such behaviour, no "useful purpose would be served by corresponding further".

More top stories in the latest issue:

EDF's "finalised" plans for a new Sizewell C nuclear power station doesn't address warnings from by experts over defence against coastal erosion.

Catch-up tuition bought in from private online companies offered schools the "weakest" learning support, regulator Ofsted says.

Rishi Sunak wants criminals to attend court for sentencing – but he is silent on delays in defendants getting to courts from prisons and police custody.

While an academy school in Newcastle remains closed after storm damage last month, the PFI company is raking in cash from after-hours use of the buildings.

Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen claims he is "bringing steel making back to Teesside", even though a deal with British Steel is yet to be done.

Rishi Sunak's fondness for freeports remains, but the companies he needs to set up in the low-tax areas seem rather less enthusiastic.

Royal Mail, fined a record £5.6m for missing delivery targets by a country mile, is failing to deliver letters to every address in the UK six days a week.

Wimbledon residents are drawing up battle plans after a council decision to approve the All England Lawn Tennis Club's expansion into a local park.

The Scottish salmon farming industry is facing a legal complaint over the use of the word "sustainable" in its communications.

To read all these stories in full, please buy issue 1611 of Private Eye - you can subscribe here and have the magazine delivered to your home every fortnight.

Next issue on sale: 13th December 2023
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In This Issue
What next for Suella?... Your guide to dead political animals... Sun readers' guide to the Muddle East... Modern parents struggle to help children with homework... Pot says Kettle ‘rudderless and drifting'... Do you suffer from Long Covid Inquiry?... Person on the internet ‘couldn't care less about the new Beatles song'... Actors free to be incredibly annoying again... Sir Tim Rice's Diary, as told to Craig Brown...

Mind the cap
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Freeports gone wrong, from the Tees to the Solent

Theory test
Inside the madness that is Nadine Dorries's new book

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13th December 2023
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