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The European Commission is taking action to improve the protection of journalists and human rights defenders from abusive court proceedings. On 27 April 2022, the Commission proposed a Directive that includes key remedies and safeguards needed for effective anti-SLAPP legislation. SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) are lawsuits filed strategically by a corporation against journalists and human rights defenders opposing certain actions taken by such corporation. They are intended to harass, intimidate and silence defendants speaking up on issues of public interest with the length of procedures, the financial pressure and the threat of criminal sanctions.
The Directive is the first step in the fight against this type of abusive lawsuit in Europe. It focuses on cross-border civil and commercial cases. It enables judges to swiftly dismiss manifestly unfounded lawsuits against journalists and human rights defenders. It establishes several procedural safeguards and remedies, i.a. compensation of damages, compensation of costs, dissuasive penalties for launching abusive lawsuits and protection against third-country judgements. Those safeguards are expected to benefit particular journalists and persons or organisations engaged in defending human rights and all persons engaged in public participation on matters of public interest.
The Commission is also adopting a complementary Recommendation for the Member States, which aims at aligning the domestic law with the proposed EU law reform. The Recommendation encourages the States to i.a. create the necessary safeguards, similar to those at the EU level, in regard to the domestic cases of SLAPPS, provide training for legal professionals and potential SLAPP targets, and create information campaigns.
The proposed Directive will have to be negotiated and adopted by the European Parliament and the Council before it can become EU law. The Commission’s Recommendation is directly applicable. Member States will need to report on implementation to the Commission 18 months after the adoption of the Recommendation.
The full text of the proposal for the Directive can be found here.