Proposed Directive and Recommendation on strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs)

12/05/2022

See an update from the Human Rights & Equality Committee on proposed legislation to protect journalists and human rights defenders from unfounded lawsuits.

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The European Commission’s proposed Directive released 27 April 2022 covers SLAPPs in civil matters with cross-border implications, enables judges to dismiss manifestly unfounded lawsuits against journalists and human rights defenders and establishes several procedural safeguards and remedies.

Safeguards include the claimant bearing all procedural costs while remedies range from compensation for damages for those targeted by SLAPPs, to the imposition of penalties designed to dissuade the use of abusive lawsuits.

The measures proposed are designed to ensure the balance of access to justice and privacy rights with the protection of freedom of expression and information.

Although the proposed Directive is expected to primarily benefit journalists and human rights defenders, all persons engaged in public participation on matters of public interest will be covered.

The Commission has also adopted a Recommendation to complement the Directive that encourages Member States to align their national legal frameworks with the proposed EU law to address the prevalence of SLAPPs in their jurisdiction.

The Recommendation further encourages Member States to ensure the availability of training for legal professionals and potential SLAPP targets to improve their knowledge and skills to effectively deal with such court proceedings as well as access to pro-bono independent legal support.

The Commission is also requesting that Member States collect aggregated data on manifestly unfounded or abusive court proceedings against public participation and for this to be reported to the Commission annually, starting as of 2023.

The proposed Directive must first be negotiated by the European Parliament and the Council before it can become EU law. However, the Recommendation is directly applicable to Member States.