What is a SLAPP suit?

It stands for Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation. A US invention, SLAPP suits intimidate people involved in protecting public assets. They do this by engaging them in expensive and time-consuming legal battles, therefore achieving their goal of weakening and disarming their critics even before a court determines an outcome.

Notable Australian SLAPP suits, and threats of SLAPP suits, include the Barwon Water-funded SLAPP against the Bannockburn Yellow Gum Action Group for publishing a bumper-sticker. Then there was the BCR Asset Management SLAPP of Ruth Hawley for writing a letter to the newspaper opposing a development in Lorne, the National Association of Forest Industries SLAPP against Alan Gray for publishing Forest Friendly Building Timbers and so on. Mostly (as in these cases) they don’t make it to court; their intention is to intimidate with the threat of legal action.

The long running SLAPP against opponents to the Hindmarsh Island bridge did go to court, with devastating consequences for the brave campaigners involved. You can read about these cases, and others, in Slapping on the Writs by Brian Walters (UNSW Press, 2003).

Australia is one of the few countries that don’t have a bill of rights, which means its citizens depend on parliamentarians to defend these ‘implied’ rights.

David Risstrom / Marcus Ward

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