The European Union executive has proposed laws to curb excessive litigation aimed at silencing critical journalists and rights advocates by governments and businesses.
It called it a form of harassment that was on the rise in Croatia and Poland.
In its latest health check of the state of democracy in the 27-nation bloc, the European Commission said that last year such so-called SLAPPs – or strategic lawsuits against public participation – were „a serious concern”.
„In a democracy, wealth and power cannot give anyone an advantage over truth,” said the Commission’s deputy head for values and transparency, Vera Jourova. „We are helping to protect those who take risks and speak up when the public interest is at stake.”
„Manifestly unfounded or abusive court proceedings against public participation are a recent but increasingly prevalent phenomenon in the European Union,” the Commission said on Wednesday in proposing new legal remedies for the bloc.
Such disproportionate lawsuits, often based on defamation clauses, aim to intimidate the targets, exhaust their resources and entangle them in multiple legal proceedings, often in several jurisdictions, the Commission said.
„Today, we are taking important steps to safeguard journalists and civil society who are increasingly under threat from SLAPPs. SLAPPs delay or even prevent the publication of statements of public interest. (They) also put an unnecessary burden on courts. We are now providing instruments to keep that abusive practice in check,” Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders said.
It is typically pursued by claimants with more political power or money. It impacts groups such as academics, LGBT and environmental campaigners or labour unionists, it said.
It gave as an example, the anti-corruption investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia who was involved in some 40 defamation cases at the time of her murder in 2017.