Maltese MEPs unanimously vote for anti-SLAPP rules

“SLAPP are a form of legal harassment and an abuse of the justice system, increasingly used by powerful individuals and organisations to avoid public scrutiny.” MEP Tiemo Wölken (S&D)

All Maltese MEPs gave their green light to new rules to protect journalists, activists, and academics and their organisations against abusive lawsuits aimed at silencing them.

During the European Parliament’s plenary session, which is currently convening in Strasbourg, PL MEPs (S&D) Alfred Sant, Alex Agius Saliba, Cyrus Engerer, and Josianne Cutajar, as well as the PN MEP (EPP) David Casa (Roberta Metsola does not vote, being EP President) were among the 546 who voted in favour.

Only 47 MEPs voted against while 31 abstained in the vote for the new directive, agreed with the Council on 30th 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 EU Member State.

Addressing a press conference following the plenary vote in Strasbourg yesterday, the dossier’s lead MEP, Tiemo Wölken (S&D, Germany), described SLAPP lawsuits as a threat to the rule of law that seriously undermine the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, information, and association. “They are a form of legal harassment and an abuse of the justice system, increasingly used by powerful individuals and organisations to avoid public scrutiny. Our courts should not be abused like this for personal gain,” he said, pointing out that the directive will help fight SLAPPs, stopping people from using the courts to intimidate and deter journalists and activists from making information public and enforcing a kind of self-censorship.

“It’s a good day for the protection of journalists and important work for our democracy in Europe,” MEP Wölken told the Press.

The directive will enter into force on the 20th day following its publication in the EU Official Journal. Member States will have two years to transpose the rules into their national systems.

What have MEPs voted for?

Through their vote, 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 cases and gather detailed data about them.

Photo: Britta Pendersen/DPA/AFP

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