The Malta Independent 18 October 2021, Monday

Updated: EU Commission says no legal obstacle to introduce Anti-SLAPP legislation in Malta

Wednesday, 13 June 2018, 12:27 Last update: about 4 years ago

In reply to a parliamentary question submitted by Partit Nazzjonalista Head of Delegation David Casa, Commisioner Vera Jourová stated it is possible to prevent the enforcement of SLAPP judgments in other jurisdictions on the basis of public policy.

The position of the European Commission contrasts with that of the Maltese government that rejected an Anti-SLAPP amendment proposed by PN MP Jason Azzopardi to the new media bill on the basis of incompatibility with EU law. 

David Casa said: “It is clear that there is nothing in EU law that precludes measures to protect journalists from these abusive practices in national legislation”.

The Commission has stated:

a.    An EU member state has a right to legislate against SLAPP originating in a jurisdiction outside the EU; and 

b.    That EU member states have a right to protect their nationals against SLAPP originating from within the EU as long as it is done in good faith and in line with declared public policy. 

The Commission’s response shows that PN MP Jason Azzopardi’s proposed amendments last January to protect Maltese media and journalists from SLAPP threats was consistent with EU law. 

A European People’s Party statement quoted David Casa as saying: “The abysmal reasoning provided by Minister Owen Bonnici to justify the decision not legislate to protect Maltese journalists must be understood in the context of his complicity to silence Daphne Caruana Galizia through SLAPP. Today, the Commission has effectively rubbished the position taken by the Maltese government”. 

PN MP Jason Azzopardi was also quoted as saying: “Owen Bonnici should immediately propose this amendment in parliament and give journalists the peace of mind to conduct their work that they deserve. Regrettably, Owen Bonnici’s track record does not augur that this will happen any time soon”.

David Casa is organizing a debate in the European Parliament on SLAPP this afternoon that will be attended by European Parliament President Antonio Tajani.

A strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) is a lawsuit that is intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defence until they abandon their criticism or opposition. Such lawsuits have been made illegal in many jurisdictions on the grounds that they impede freedom of speech.

 Government argues to the contrary

In a statement, the government argued to the contrary, saying that the European Commissioner for Justice Věra Jourová's response "confirmed the legal position of the Maltese Government that, 'Judgments delivered from a court of another EU member state on the basis of jurisdictional reasons according to Regulation 1215/2012 are to be recognised and enforced in the requested member state', and any initiative of a member state to regulate the jurisdiction of national courts must be in accordance with Regulation 1215/2012."

"Furthermore, the European Commission stated that, 'the regulation provides for a possibility to refuse recognition of the enforcement of a judgment on the grounds that it would be manifestly contrary to public order. However, according to the case law of the EU Court of Justice, the public order exception is interpreted restrictively.'"

"The Government also notes that the European Commission confirmed that there is lack of competence within the Union to harmonise laws on defamation and to address SLAPP lawsuits and at the same time that, 'Member states are free to introduce such legislation at national level', In fact, the Maltese Government, in its new law on Media Defamation introduced new provisions that prevent SLAPP lawsuits initiated in Malta against local journalists."

"However, the Commission adds that enforcement of judgments from other member states must be recognised and enforced in conformity with the relevant EU law."

 


 

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