UK: Defence counsel backs ‘naming and shaming’ oligarch solicitors

The UK Law Gazette reports

Naming and shaming’ lawyers who represent oligarchs could be ‘more effective than anything the Solicitors Regulation Authority is going to do’, a media defence lawyer suggested last night.

Adelaide Lopez, a senior associate at Wiggin who represented journalist Catherine Belton in libel claims over her 2020 book Putin’s People, said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has ‘shone a light’ on the use of so-called lawfare and strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs).

She said the war in Ukraine has triggered a ‘generational moment’ in relation to issues of client selection, particularly in relation to claims against journalists, which she said is ‘here to stay’.

Lopez was speaking last night at the launch of a report on SLAPPs by the Foreign Policy Centre and ARTICLE 19, which calls on legal regulators to ‘prioritise the issue of legal intimidation and SLAPPs as one of serious concern undermining the reputation of the UK legal community’.

‘We seem to be in a moment … around the rich and powerful asserting themselves at the expense of transparency and I think that moment is not going away, even if Russia retreats,’ Lopez said.

She was, however, pessimistic about the prospect of effective regulation by the SRA, saying: ‘I think if anything is going to have a powerful impact, it is actually going to be the current PR campaign that is very effectively naming and shaming a lot of these solicitors.’

Referring to last week’s call by a US congressman to impose travel bans on six UK lawyers alleged to have brought ‘abusive’ claims against journalists, Lopez said: ‘I think it is probably going to be more effective than anything the SRA is going to do any time soon.’

Charlie Holt – UK campaigns manager for English PEN – agreed, saying that the SRA does not have the ‘capacity or the competence’ to properly enforce any changes to the law which may result from the government’s consultation on potential anti-SLAPP measures.

He added that the response of the lawyers and law firms named in last week’s letter to US secretary of state Antony Blinken ‘really underscored the gaping divide between public ethics and legal ethics’, which he described as saying ‘we were acting in compliance with the rules’.

‘They could reasonably say they were acting in compliance with the rules, but any reasonable person would not look at that conduct … and look at what they were facilitating and think, “yeah, that’s ethical”,’ Holt said.

The report by the Foreign Policy Centre and ARTICLE 19 calls on the SRA and other regulators to ‘provide guidance to lawyers and law firms on how to identify potential SLAPP cases and expand regulatory frameworks to ensure that UK law firms are not complicit in facilitating SLAPPs’.

Law firms should ‘strengthen internal due diligence checks on clients regarding their source of wealth and refrain from accepting funds to pay for legal services, including legal advice, where the origin of [wealth] is unexplained’, the report also recommends.

Lawyers should also commit to ‘high ethical standards when writing to journalists and media outlets threatening legal action … and avoid the use of language or tactics that could intentionally or otherwise be perceived to intimidate or harass’, it adds – a suggestion made to peers earlier this. month.

Published At The UK Law Gazette