The Council of the European Union announced on Thursday it had reached a provisional agreement with the European Parliament over a directive designed to protect journalists and human rights defenders from abusive court proceedings, such as strategic lawsuits against public participation, commonly known as SLAPPs.
Brokered under the Spanish presidency of the Council of the EU, the proposed directive is seen as an important step towards limiting the growing use of these lawsuits by powerful and rich parties to silence people who speak out on issues of public interest. The sole purpose of these lawsuits is to censor, intimidate and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defence until they abandon their criticism or opposition.
“With this new law, the EU is defending journalists and human rights defenders against unfounded and abusive court cases,” Felix Bolanos, the Spanish justice minister, said in a statement.
The European Commission in April last year tasked the Council of EU and European Parliament with developing anti-SLAPP legislation that would protect journalists, activists, academics, and others from legal battles intended to stop their work.
Human rights activists and media, including BIRN, have long been subject to such vexatious lawsuits. According to the annual report published by the Council of Europe Platform to Promote the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists, at least 20 defamation and other types of legal proceedings were documented against journalists in 2022, with hundreds of thousands of euros sought in damages in the name of ‘reputational harm’.
The proposed directive – which first needs to be endorsed by member states and, if approved, then formally adopted by both the EU Council and European Parliament – will introduce a number of procedural safeguards and protections for those targeted by SLAPPs.
For example, targeted individuals can ask the court to dismiss a claim at an early stage if it’s considered to be manifestly unfounded; demand a financial security from the person or company who brought the claim; and seek other types of remedies, such as ruling the claimant must bear the costs of the proceedings, including the costs of legal representation of the SLAPP victim.
In addition, the Council of the EU and European Parliament agreed on how to define the cross-border nature of a SLAPP case, as well as over the treatment of third-country judgments. For the latter, if a person living in the EU is targeted by a SLAPP case in a third country, EU member states must refuse the recognition and enforcement of this third-country judgment if considered manifestly unfounded or abusive.
The provisional deal was hailed by many, including the Vice President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova. But others, such as the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation, named after the murdered Maltese investigative journalist and whose name is attached to this new so-called “Daphne’s Law”, warned that the watering down and removal of important safeguards means it will fail to offer meaningful protection to journalists and activists.
“90% of identified SLAPP cases would not be covered by the Council’s general approach proposal,” the foundation tweeted following the announcement.
Source : BalkanInsight