The Malta Independent 21 April 2024, Sunday
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Daphne law: EU approves new anti-SLAPP laws, protecting against cross-border lawsuits

Tuesday, 27 February 2024, 13:27 Last update: about 3 months ago

The European Parliament has approved new anti-SLAPP laws which will protect critical voices from the intimidation tactics of cross-border lawsuits.

The European Parliament approved with 546 votes in favour, 47 against and 31 abstentions a new law, agreed with the Council on 30 November 2023, to ensure individuals and organisations working on matters of public interest such as fundamental rights, allegations of corruption, protection of democracy or the fight against disinformation are given EU protection against unfounded and abusive lawsuits.

The protection will apply to all cross-border cases except when both the defendant and claimant are from the same EU country as the court or when the case is only relevant to one member state.

MEPs ensured victims are more robustly protected by introducing two safeguards - early dismissal if the case is unfounded, and the possibility to ask the claimant to pay the estimated costs of proceedings, including legal representation of the defendant, and damages.

If the defendant requests an early dismissal, it will be up to the claimant to prove that there are grounds for proceedings to continue. The court may also impose other penalties on claimants, who are often politicians, corporations or lobby groups, such as ordering them to pay compensation for damages.

To avoid forum shopping - when the claimant picks the jurisdiction where their chances of success are the highest - the new rules ensure that third-country judgments in unfounded or abusive proceedings against individuals or institutions from the EU will not be recognised.

EU governments will also make sure that potential victims of abusive lawsuits can access information in a single place on procedural safeguards and remedies, including legal aid and financial and psychological support. Member states will have to ensure legal aid is provided in cross-border civil proceedings. They should also publish all final judgments in SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation) cases and gather detailed data about them.

“It has taken 6 years but we have finally have a European Anti-SLAPP Directive,” stated David Casa, who was the first MEP to call for this directive in early 2018 and has been campaigning for it ever since.

Casa commented on the Anti-SLAPP Directive directly after the European Parliament gave its final approval on the agreement reached. It is now set to become law.

Casa started his campaign after Maltese media houses received threatening letters from Pilatus Bank in the aftermath of the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia. The letters demanded that media houses alter their content or face financially crippling legal action in other jurisdictions. Mr Casa had labelled such action as ‘abusive’ and tantamount to the ‘harassment of the free press’.

“Initially our main hurdle was finding a legal basis that would empower the EU to legislate. Thanks to the work of Vice President Věra Jourová, that hurdle was overcome. But it is true that the EU could only go so far, and the Directive primarily caters for cases that have a cross-border element.

“This is why together with the Directive, the Commission also issued a Recommendation which makes it clear that the provisions of the Directive should also be applied to purely domestic cases. We must work hard to ensure that this happens all across the EU and especially in Malta,” Casa declared.

The Directive will ensure that there is an early dismissal mechanism for SLAPP cases, that SLAPP judgements coming from outside the EU will not be enforced, and that effective financial consequences are imposed on those who use SLAPP.

“That Daphne’s Law is now a reality is a substantial achievement. But we must now ensure that it is worthy of the name it has been given, also by securing a transposition that caters for all SLAPP cases - even those that are entirely domestic.”

Casa thanked the Parliament’s negotiating team for its work in securing the Parliament’s priorities. He called on the Maltese government not to delay the transposition and to withdraw its own SLAPP cases against Maltese media houses, such as those related to fighting freedom of information requests.

“While we fight for stronger laws and protections, the bottom line is that a government antagonistic to press freedom is harmful for our democracy.”

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