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Representation in Malta
News article30 November 2023Representation in Malta

Commission welcomes political agreement on countering abusive lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP)

SLAPP

The European Commission welcomes the provisional political agreement reached between the European Parliament and the Council today on new EU rules to protect those targeted with strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP), such as journalists, rights defenders or civil society organisations.

As proposed by the Commission in April 2022, the Directive creates a system of powerful procedural safeguards for cross-border SLAPP cases. The existence of these safeguards will equip courts to deal with abusive litigation but will also deter potential claimants from engaging in such practices.

When the new Directive enters into force, for the first time there will be a binding European legal instrument against strategic lawsuits against public participation, following  calls for such action from civil society after the murder of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

The new rules will include:

  • the early dismissal of manifestly unfounded claims; remedies against abusive court proceedings including the full award of costs and penalties or other appropriate measures;
  • protection against third country judgments which will not be recognised or enforced in the EU.

This Directive forms a package together with the Commission's horizontal Recommendation on anti-Slapp, which was adopted in 2022 and is already being implemented.

Next steps

The European Parliament and the Council will now have to formally adopt the political agreement.

Background

The European Democracy Action Plan, adopted in December 2020, announced a series of concrete initiatives to support and safeguard media freedom and pluralism. One of the initiatives announced was a measure to protect journalists and civil society organisations against SLAPPs. The use of SLAPPs is increasing in the EU, with targets often facing multiple lawsuits simultaneously and in multiple jurisdictions.

The prevalence of SLAPPs is a matter of serious concern in some Member States, as identified by the 2020 and 2021 Rule of Law ReportsMedia Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) partners documented 626 press freedom violations in the EU in 2021, including widespread SLAPPs, affecting 1,063 people or media entities in 30 countries.

A tragic example of the use of SLAPPs is the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia who was facing 43 lawsuits at the time of her assassination in 2017. The aim of SLAPP lawsuits is not to access justice but to harass, intimidate and silence defendants with  the financial pressure and stress resulting from lengthy court proceedings. It is particularly important to be able to offer concrete support to those who are taking such grave risks to keep people properly informed.

Journalists are not the only targets; human rights defenders, civil society organisations and others, including those working on the environment, also face SLAPPs.

For More Information

Draft Directive on protecting persons who engage in public participation from manifestly unfounded or abusive court proceedings (“Strategic lawsuits against public participation”).

Details

Publication date
30 November 2023
Author
Representation in Malta