European Parliament backs rules to stop abusive legal cases against journalists, human rights defenders

Under draft legislation endorsed by the European Parliament on July 12, journalists, media organisations, human rights defenders, activists, researchers and artists will be protected in the European Union from strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs), the aim of which are to intimidate and penalise them, the European Parliament said in a statement.

With 498 votes to 33 and 105 abstentions, MEPs adopted their negotiating position on new rules to protect those working on matters of public interest like fundamental rights, the activities of public officials or corruption allegations.

The new rules should apply in cross-border cases when the defendant, claimant and court are not based in the same country or when the act of public participation – be it a press article, social media post, video, piece of research, or artwork – has relevance for more than one member state and can be accessed electronically.

The draft directive foresees safeguards for victims of SLAPPs, including the possibility of asking for the early dismissal of the court action, in which case a claimant will have to prove that their case is not unfounded.

The claimant would also have to cover the full costs of the proceedings, including the defendant´s legal representation and face penalties, while the SLAPP victim could seek compensation, including for psychological or reputational harm.

To limit the practice of choosing the court most likely to side with the claimant, defamation cases would only be admissible in a defendant’s national court.

Member states should not recognise the SLAPP judgments of non-EU countries against individuals and companies residing in their territory and should allow those targeted to be compensated in the national court.

MEPs want EU member states to establish one-stop-shops where SLAPP victims can seek information and advice and they urge national authorities to provide those targeted by SLAPPs with financial, legal and psychological assistance.

EU countries will be required to ensure legal practitioners receive adequate training to deal with SLAPP cases and that their professional associations adopt rules discouraging members from taking up abusive lawsuits.

MEPs also ask member states to collect relevant data, especially on court decisions, and for the European Commission to establish an EU register on SLAPPs.

Talks between the European Parliament and member states on the final shape of the legislation will begin on July 12.

(Photo: EC Audiovisual Service)

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