A CROSS-PARTY group of MSPs will pressure the government to act amid warnings that Scottish courts could be laid open to international “libel tourism”.

Representatives from the SNP, Labour, and the Tories agreed to push forward on calls for Scotland to bring in stricter laws around the use of SLAPPs: Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.

A SLAPP is a threat of vexatious legal action, from an oligarch or other rich interest, against media outlets. Journalists are told they will face a lengthy and expensive court battle unless they agree not to publish what they know.

READ MORE: What are SLAPPs? The 'obscure' legal issue that impacts on everyone in Scotland

With both the UK and EU looking to tighten the laws on SLAPPs, senior SNP MSP and former minister Fergus Ewing warned Scotland could become “the jurisdiction of choice of very rich people who wish basically to attack the freedom of the press using the courts as a shield”.

Ewing was speaking at Holyrood’s Public Petitions Committee on Wednesday, where MSPs agreed to pressure the Scottish Government to act in response to calls led by Roger Mullin, the former SNP MP.

He said: “The scenario that we’re considering here is that the UK passes legislation leaving Scotland as the jurisdiction of choice of very rich people who wish basically to attack the freedom of the press using the courts as a shield.

“I do not think that is something we want to see happening in Scotland and therefore I find the lack of any obvious enthusiasm from the Scottish Government disappointing.”

The National: Fergus Ewing

In response to Mullin’s petition, the SNP/Green government said it was not considering a review of its laws – something MSPs suggested was not sufficient.

Ewing (above) suggested that the Government could be told that MSPs were “contemplating an inquiry” into the issue.

Labour MSP Paul Sweeney, who also expressed support for a tightening of the law on SLAPPs, suggested that the “member’s bill route might be an opportunity to further drive this agenda”.

READ MORE: Call for lawyers and oligarchs to be sanctioned over ‘abuse’ of UK courts

Sweeney said that the Government could be pressured in a number of ways, and may be made to take on and support a member’s bill.

However, Jackson Carlaw, the former Scots Tory leader and the committee’s convener, said that route may not work as there was already a “record number” of member’s bills before the parliament and they would struggle to get through them before 2026.

Mullin (below) told The National he was “delighted” with the progress made on his calls for action on SLAPPs.

The National: Former MP Roger Mullin had to block people on social media

He said: “I am delighted that my petition received support from members of all the parties represented on committee.

“I was particularly heartened by suggestions that not only should they write to various professional bodies, but also indicated a possibility of holding an oral evidence session where I could explain further the importance and urgency of the issue.”

The former MP added: “There is no time to waste in putting in place legal protections to ensure that oligarchs and other mega rich individuals cannot abuse our justice system with the aim of preventing the public from finding out what they are up to.”

Simon Barrow, the director of the Edinburgh-based think-tank Ekklesia which backed the former SNP MP’s petition, said: "We are very pleased that the committee took the issue of SLAPPs with real seriousness, and agreed on a cross-party basis that it should proceed.

“There is an urgent ethical and democratic need to stop the egregious misuse of legal processes to stifle investigative journalism, suppress open debate on abuses of wealth and power, and silence legitimate criticism of corporate interests.

“With measures against SLAPPs being considered at Westminster for England and Wales, it is even more important that Scotland protects itself from becoming the residual target of gratuitous libel tourism within these islands.”

The Committee agreed to write to the Scottish Law Commission, the Law Society of Scotland, National Union of Journalists, Scottish Newspaper Society, and the Scottish Government to move forward.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government keeps the law under constant review, and is closely monitoring the UK Government’s intention to introduce a new statutory early dismissal process to strike out Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participations, the recent EU-level draft Directive concerning SLAPPs and the Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee’s consideration of the petition.

“We will respond once we have received and considered further correspondence from the Committee.”