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What is the "anti-SLAPP" Directive and how it can protect journalists and human rights defenders?

In the last few years, there has been an increase in lawsuits aimed at discouraging journalists and human rights activists from participating in public life by initiating numerous unfounded proceedings against them.

In July 2023, the European Parliament adopted a proposal for a directive on protecting persons who engage in public participation from manifestly unfounded or abusive court proceedings (“Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation”). The "anti-SLAPP" directive could have a serious impact on the operation of the media, as it provides a set of minimum standards of protection and safeguards against strategic lawsuits, as well as the threats thereof, with cross-border implications brought against natural and legal persons engaging in public participation. 

For example, the courts can reject claims declared to be "frivolous" at an early stage, obliging the plaintiff to prove that the accusation is not unfounded. If the fact of abuse is established, the plaintiff must bear the entire legal costs, including the costs of the defendant's legal representation. They can even be fined. On the other hand, the person sued can claim compensation for, among other things, mental harm or damaged reputation. Also, in defamation claims or other claims based on civil or commercial law which may constitute a claim under the Directive, the domicile of the defendant should be considered to be the sole forum, having due regard to cases where the victims of defamation are natural persons.

A new article has been included establishing a ‘one-stop shop’ comprising dedicated national networks of specialised lawyers, legal practitioners and psychologists, which targets of SLAPPs can contact, and through which they can receive guidance and easy access to information on, and protection against SLAPPs, such as legal aid, financial and psychological support. Moreover, those responsible for the training of lawyers are required to make available both general and specialist training to increase the awareness of strategic lawsuits against public participation and the procedural safeguards against them provided for in the Directive.

According to the final version of the proposed Directive, Member States shall bring into force the laws, regulations and administrative provisions necessary to comply with it by 2 years from the date of entry into force of the Directive at the latest.