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EU agreement to stop strategic lawsuits meant to silence journalists

A provisional agreement on new EU rules to protect those targeted with strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP), such as journalists and rights defenders, has been reached by the European Parliament and the European Council. The SLAPP lawsuits are used trying to silence critics.

The Directive creates a system of 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, the EU Commission says in a statement.

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 investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

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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.

The European Democracy Action Plan, adopted in December 2020, announced initiatives meant 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 Reports. Media 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”, the Commission says.

“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 lenghy 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.”

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