SLAPPS (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation), well known in the United States of America, are on the increase in the United Kingdom. SLAPPS are court actions taken by powerful or wealthy individuals or organizations against ordinary people who seek to express their views and to take part in the decision-making processes which affect their lives. Their effect is meant to "chill" through legal intimidation - to stop the critics and end the debates. A steady growth of SLAPPs has occurred where government and business sees their interests being threatened by those who dare to rock the boat. The court case becomes a weapon in a larger political war, tying people up in court rooms, sapping their energy and money, carrying the fear of severe legal sanction. In this way the law is used not to protect a valid legal claim but rather to frighten and silence those who are bold enough to criticise, question and speak out.
Looking at various high-profile cases the author considers both the theory and practice of attacks upon free speech in a modern democracy. In the new era of human rights in the United Kingdom the author poses important questions about what the use of such legal actions tells us about the health of our democracy at the turn of the millennium.