EC anti-SLAPP initiative - a landmark step towards justice

27 April 2022

Months after Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder, a cross-party group of MEPs called on the European Commission to protect people from the SLAPP harassment Daphne was subjected to. Today, thanks to Vice President Jourová, Commissioner Reynders, and their teams, that protection is close to being realised. The European Commission’s anti-SLAPP initiative unveiled today is a landmark step forward and marks the start of a new phase in our campaign. We need to ensure member states implement the proposed measures at a minimum, to protect the public interest and to do justice to Daphne’s sacrifice.

As the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation, we join our partners in the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE) in welcoming the European Commission’s anti-SLAPP initiative which includes key remedies and safeguards needed in any effective anti-SLAPP legislation. The initiative, which focuses on cross-border cases, is a crucial first step forward in the fight against abusive lawsuits against public watchdogs in Europe.

Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) operate through the litigation process to silence critical speech, shut down accountability, and undermine democratic rights. A CASE report published in March 2022 found a rising cumulative trend of SLAPPs in Europe since 2015.

EU Anti-SLAPP Proposals: A Broad Scope of Measures

CASE is deeply encouraged to see that the core safeguards and recommendations we have been advocating for over the past years, and that we discussed in our most recent policy brief, are included in the European Commission’s initiative. We welcome the broad personal scope of the proposed measures, recognising that SLAPPs are aimed at restricting transparent debate on issues of public importance and can impact anybody who wants to hold power to account. We strongly support the Commission’s approach in defining SLAPPs with cross-border implications, which takes into account how attempts to limit public participation resonate and impact public interest across borders, and welcome its recommendation that states ensure that safeguards be applied to all cases beyond the scope of minimum EU standards. We also note that the proposed anti-SLAPP law includes key safeguards and remedies identified in our research and articulated in our model directive, specifically an early dismissal mechanism (along with reversal of burden of proof, stay of proceedings, accelerated proceedings), a regime of sanctions, and remedial and protective measures (e.g. compensation of costs).

We also welcome the Commission’s recommendation to member states to review those laws which, by unduly limiting or chilling freedom of expression, make judicial systems vulnerable to abuse to silence critics, particularly rules on defamation. CASE has repeatedly underscored the importance of a holistic approach in tackling SLAPPs, including awareness-raising and legal training, support mechanisms and free legal aid, a review of ethical codes regulating lawyers, data collection, and reporting. We are glad to see these components fed into the European Commission’s proposals and remain open to ongoing engagement with the Commission and member states on the implementation process.

What next?

EU and national decision makers must genuinely engage on this initiative. Reaching a swift agreement on an ambitious EU anti-SLAPP law is the objective which must be pursued as a priority. The EU legislators - the European Parliament and the Council, with the help of the Commission - and national legislators must build on the Commission’s legislative proposal and work towards the strongest possible set of rules. Any attempts to weaken the minimum standards proposed by the Commission must be fought back.