EU finally approved better rules for “SLAPP” claims!

SLAPP Claims

EU finally approved better rules for “SLAPP” claims!

Over the past few years, we have learned that cybercriminals are not afraid of all of European law enforcement’s capabilities. Cross-border criminal investigations—in the rare case when opened—take years without any action. So, cybercriminals can make an excellent life for themselves for years with the victims’ money: expensive cars, expensive clothes, private schools for the children, and a private golf club in the best neighborhood.

It only gets nasty when their neighbors learn about their actual business activities – crime, porn, money laundering – through investigative journalists. Suddenly, the private golf club becomes an unpleasant place to be.

With social media sharing possibilities and viral dissemination on the internet, the adverse media soon ends up also at business partners’ desks, banks running the bank accounts, and authorities in charge, and all of a sudden, the hidden criminals have to explain their wealth and their activities.

All about SLAPP claims:

This is very often the moment when SLAPP (the acronym stands for “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation”) claims are filed by exposed criminals.

SLAPP claims are a growing issue: Research by Case—a group of non-governmental organizations from across Europe united in recognition of the threat Slapps pose to public watchdogs—indicates the number of Slapp cases across Europe has been increasing. While four points were counted in 2010, that number climbed to 146 in 2020 and 161 in 2022. EFRI and its board members alone experienced four SLAPP claims during the past 18 months.

At the time of her killing, the Maltese infamous investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was facing 43 civil and five criminal libel suits.

In 2017, following the brutal assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, numerous civil society organizations undertook a mission to prevent the inconceivable denigration that Daphne experienced from recurring.

ANTI-SLAPP EU Directive.

 In April 2022, the EU Commission proposed a Slapp Directive (also referred to as “Daphne´s law”). Only a few days later, on 27 February 2024, the EU Parliament finally adopted the EU Directive on protecting persons who engage in public participation from manifestly unfounded or abusive court proceedings (“Strategic lawsuits against public participation”).


Cross-border court cases are adressed

The new rules are intended to protect individuals and organizations dealing with issues of public interest – such as fundamental rights, allegations of corruption, the protection of democracy, or the fight against disinformation – from unfounded and abusive lawsuits.

The protection applies to all cross-border cases unless the defendant and the plaintiff come from the same EU member state as the court or the case is only relevant in one member state.

Financial protection mechanisms and a single point of contact

To ensure that victims are better protected, the Parliament implemented two protection mechanisms: the early dismissal of unfounded claims and the possibility of requiring the claimant to pay the estimated costs of the proceedings—including the defendant’s legal representation fees—and damages. If the defendant requests the early termination of proceedings, the plaintiff must prove good reasons for continuing the proceedings.

The court can also impose other penalties on plaintiffs, often politicians, companies, or lobby groups. For example, it can oblige them to compensate for the damage caused.

The new rules are also intended to prevent plaintiffs from choosing the place of jurisdiction that offers the best prospects of success. Therefore, judgments handed down in third countries based on unfounded or abusive legal proceedings against individuals or entities from the EU will not be recognized.

Furthermore, Member States must ensure that potential victims of abusive lawsuits receive all information on procedural guarantees and legal remedies—including legal aid, legal aid, and psychological support—at a single central point in the future. Member States must also ensure legal aid is granted in cross-border civil proceedings. In addition, they must publish all final judgments on strategic lawsuits against public participation (“SLAPP lawsuits”) and collect detailed data on them.

Timing and next steps:

The Directive will enter into force on the 20th day following its publication in the EU Official Journal. Member states then have two years to transpose it into national law.

As with all directives, this EU directive is the minimum standard, and the EU member states can and should go above and beyond to ensure adequate protection.