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S&Ds lead the way to put an end to abusive lawsuits against journalists and activists in Europe

Date

30 Nov 2023

Sections

Global Europe

Last night, we took a major step towards ending the widespread practice of abusive lawsuits aimed at silencing journalists, NGOs, human and environmental rights defenders and civil society, thanks to a political agreement reached between the European Parliament and the Council. 

Thanks to the work of our political Group, the upcoming law will allow the participation in the proceedings of NGOs, trade unions and other parties with legitimate interest in support of defendants. It will also introduce measures regarding legal, psychological and financial assistance through a single point of contact to those that are victims of SLAPPs.

The Socialists and Democrats have for years been raising the alarm concerning the growth of the phenomenon of strategic lawsuits against public participation (so-called SLAPPs*), which saw a record number in 2022. 

Tiemo Wölken, S&D MEP and rapporteur for the Directive and the European Parliament’s preceding report ‘Protection of journalists and human rights defenders from manifestly unfounded or abusive court proceedings’, said:

“After intense negotiations, we have concluded a deal on the Anti-SLAPPs Directive  a milestone in protecting our democracies, the rule of law and the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, information and association. Journalists, watchdogs and all those carrying out acts of public participation on matters of public interest are the backbone of our democratic societies and they should be able to do so without fear and without being legally intimidated. Today’s agreement is a major victory for our democracies! It will ensure that our courts are not playgrounds for the personal gain of the rich and powerful.

“Despite the Council’s attempts to significantly weaken many of the Commission’s initial proposals, we have safeguarded a wide range of procedural guarantees for victims of SLAPPs. This includes safeguarding the definition of matters with cross-border implications with elements in the corresponding recital, ensuring a comprehensive understanding of this notion when assessed by national judges, notably as to the means through which the act of public participation is accessible. 

“We have also successfully introduced new flanking measures regarding assistance, information, transparency and data collection. This includes making existing legal aid, financial aid and psychological support available through a single contact point at national level. Finally, we have secured full reimbursement of costs for defendants, as well as the availability of strong penalties and the link with the right to compensation recognised under national law across member states.

“The Anti-SLAPPs Directive will help to better protect the rule of law, freedom of speech and freedom of association and, ultimately, our democracies, in Europe!”

Note to the editors

SLAPPs are unfounded and abusive legal procedures, used by the powerful and wealthy, to try to dissuade critical voices from bringing issues of public interest to light. This abusive kind of litigation not only costs time, money and has a great psychological impact on SLAPP victims, but also constitutes a misuse of our justice systems and undermines our democracies, the rule of law and our fundamental rights as recognised under EU law.

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