The Malta Independent 18 August 2018, Saturday

Government has not yet told the PN if it will back SLAPP Bill

Kevin Schembri Orland Saturday, 20 January 2018, 09:31 Last update: about 8 months ago

The government has not yet told the PN whether it will back their recently presented Private Member's Bill regarding SLAPP lawsuits, PN MPs told The Malta Independent.

Both Jason Azzopardi, who presented the Bill, and PN Secretary General Clyde Puli said that they have not yet received any kind of reaction from government.

Strategic lawsuits against public participation, otherwise known as SLAPP, are lawsuits which are aimed at intimidating and censoring the press and critics by threatening to file lawsuits which would result in excessively costly defences. PN representatives had highlighted, when presenting the bill, that such threats were recently made by Pilatus Bank and Henley & Partners.

PN MP Jason Azzopardi, speaking with The Malta Independent, said that he tabled the bill after he discussed the threat of SLAPP lawsuits with a number of legal experts and lawyers who work on libel cases in Malta. He said that he has been working on the bill for months since the legal threats made by Pilatus Bank and Henley & Partners. "One agrees that you can never stop someone from opening a court case in, for example, Timbuktu, as you do not have control over that.  But the scope of the bill is to prevent the execution of any judgement in any SLAPP lawsuit from being enforced in Malta once the defendant is a Maltese resident, or a Maltese domiciled person, or an entity which normally operates in Malta."

"It is an expression of Maltese sovereignty. If you, a foreigner, feel that I have in anyway slandered you, then you can open a libel case in Malta. Why should they go to the USA if I am Maltese? I am not trying to prevent you from suing me for damages, but if you want to sue me, then you do it in Malta since I am Maltese. That is basically the scope of the legislation."

He said that this would give Maltese journalists peace of mind.

Azzopardi stressed yesterday that PN has not yet been approached or contacted in any way by government about the Private Member's Bill.

Clyde Puli was asked whether he believes government will back the bill, or whether there has been any indication that government will back it.

"Government has not told us that they are ready to back us. Till now I have not seen much enthusiasm (on their part). It's a Private Member's Bill by our party, and one goes before Parliament every three months. Now we have one coming up in February, which relates to Zonqor, and then we would have three more months till the next opportunity. I do not know if government will back it," Puli said.

Puli said that he believes in freedom of speech and defends it." I also believe in the responsibility of the journalist and the media house, so before claims are made one must consider the reputations in the middle, and ruining reputations capriciously is wrong. But we will not accept a big company with a lot of cash to throw around trying to silence journalists simply because they have a lot of money and think nobody can do anything. We won't accept it from government nor from those who have lots of money. Democracy does not work that way, and it is clear that whoever works like that is not democratic." 

The Partit Demokratiku has previously said that it will back the bill.

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