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Raise SRA’s fining power to £250 million, say peers

By Michael Cross >>

(26 January 2023)

The Solicitors Regulation Authority should have powers to fine firms up to £250 million for abusive litigation in so-called SLAPPs – strategic litigation against public participation – cases, a committee of peers says today. The recommendation, by the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications and Digital follows a mounting political row over revelations that the sanctioned head of the Russian mercenary group Wagner was able to secure the release of funds in 2021 to sue an investigatory reporter in London. 

Prime minister Rishi Sunak told the House of Commons yesterday that the government is ‘looking at’ the granting of a licence by the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation to Yevgeney Prigozhin to instruct lawyers in London. The firm instructed in the case, Discreet Law, ceased acting in March last year. It has stressed that it ‘at all times complied with… legal and professional obligations’.

The lords committee’s recommendations, in a letter to the lord chancellor, follow an evidence-gathering session on Tuesday with anti-SLAPPs campaigners and Paul Philip, the SRA’s chief executive. Philip told the committee that the regulator’s current fining power was ‘a peashooter against a tank’.

The committee’s letter calls for:

  • The creation of a new SLAPPs defence fund paid for by wrongdoers;
  • More action from the regulator and multi-million pound increases in fining powers to deter abusive lawsuits;
  • Greater oversight of law firms using ‘black PR’ and private intelligence agencies to harass journalists; and
  • Action to close loopholes around money laundering and legal advice. 

The committee noted that money laundering is itself often a subject of investigative journalism, and the illegitimate funding could be used to pay law firms to silence journalists’ investigations into such activities.

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)