The European Parliament and EU member states have reached a provisional agreement on new rules to protect people targeted by SLAPPs (strategic lawsuits against public participation).
The proposed new directive, put forward by the European Commission last year, is aimed particularly at providing protection for journalists, rights defenders, and civil-society organisations.
The new law will apply in cross-border cases, with MEPs insisting that cases will be considered to be cross-border unless both parties are domiciled in the same country as the court, and the case is relevant only to one member state.
Costs of proceedings
Defendants will be able to apply for the early dismissal of “manifestly unfounded” claims and, in such cases, the SLAPP initiators will have to prove their case is well founded.
To prevent abusive lawsuits, courts will be able to impose penalties on claimants.
The courts can oblige the claimant to pay all the costs of proceedings – including the defendant’s legal representation. Where national law does not allow these costs to be fully paid for by the claimant, EU governments will have to ensure that they are covered, unless they are excessive.
Under the proposal, EU countries will make sure that third-country judgments in unfounded or abusive proceedings against individuals of institutions domiciled in their territory will not be recognised.
The commission has welcomed the agreement, saying that the existence of these safeguards will equip courts to deal with abusive litigation, but will also deter potential claimants from engaging in such practices.
Lead MEP Tiemo Wölken (pictured) said that the deal had been agreed despite attempts by member states to “significantly weaken” the commission’s proposals.
“Parliament secured a deal that includes a definition of cross-border cases, accelerated treatment for key procedural safeguards, such as early dismissal and provisions on financial security, as well as flanking support measures on assistance, data collection and the compensation of costs,” he stated.
The European Parliament and the EU Council will now have to formally adopt the political agreement.