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A poor, jobless person made a careless remark about a rich and petty person. The rich person gets to know about it and sues the poor person for defamation.

Does the poor person need to hire a lawyer to defend himself against the lawsuit? Lawyers charge by the hour. The poor person can hardly afford lawyers.

What are some cost-effective remedies a poor person can take if a petty rich person buries his poor victim with frivolous lawsuits?

Answers in the context of U.K, U.S, Australia are welcomed.

  • I'm not a legal expert so I'm not posting this as an answer. In the US, a specific case can be dismissed with prejudice if the case is considered deeply frivolous. This means the dismissal is final and it can't be brought up again. If the antagonizing party continually files multiple lawsuits, a court can (I'm not sure what the legal term is) bar them from filing excessive suits and hold them in contempt if they keep doing it. – Brian R Nov 23 '18 at 15:42
  • Frivolous has a specific meaning in law, and frivolous lawsuits can lead (as Brian says) to being banned from suing; the usual term is "frivolous and vexatious". However, if you can persuade (and pay) a good lawyer to take your case, it's probably not frivolous; you may need some definitions. – Tim Lymington Nov 23 '18 at 21:05
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Such a lawsuit is known as a strategic lawsuit against public participation, or SLAPP. In the United States, several states have enacted laws that penalize those whose file SLAPPs. The provisions of these laws vary from state to state, but they usually allow a defendant to file a motion to dismiss on the grounds that their statements were constitutionally protected free speech about a public figure. These laws may allow discovery to be halted until the motion to dismiss is decided; they may also require a plaintiff who files a SLAPP to reimburse the defendant's attorney's fees, possibly also with punitive damages. Some state's laws require the speech to be before a government forum (as opposed to, say, on Twitter), or to be aimed at procuring government action. And several states have no such laws at all.

A summary of various US states' anti-SLAPP laws can be found on the website of the Public Participation Project, an organization advocating the establishment of such laws.

Note that these motions to dismiss are not always brought by "the little guy" against "the big guy". A notable recent case was Stormy Daniels's libel suit against Donald Trump, which was dismissed earlier this year. Daniels had filed suit against Trump claiming that one of Trump's tweets about her was defamatory. Trump moved to dismiss under Texas's anti-SLAPP law, on the grounds that his tweet was protected political speech about a public figure (namely Daniels); and the judge agreed.

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In the context of England and Wales (I don't know about Scotland), if the lawsuit is sufficiently frivolous, the defendant can engage a lawyer on a no-win, no-fee basis. The default in England and Wales is that the losing side pays both sets of lawyers†.

See https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/libertycentral/2011/mar/09/hardeep-singh-no-win-no-fee-libel for an example of this.


† There are exceptions to this. The most common one is where the claimant sues for £X, the defendants offer to pay £Y (which is less), and damages are eventually decided to be less than £Y. The costs from the time of the offer to the end of the case then have to be paid by the winning claimant who prolonged the case unnecessarily.

  • Looks as if Scotland has the same default (though I bet it's not called 'the English rule' there). "As a general rule, court expenses [anglice 'costs']are awarded to the party who succeeds in the claim. These expenses must then be paid by the unsuccessful party." Scottish courts website – Tim Lymington Nov 23 '18 at 18:09

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