A coalition of non-governmental organisations from across Europe has been working over the past years to raise awareness and urge policy makers to protect public interest watchdogs such as journalists, rights defenders, activists and whistleblowers from Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs).
SLAPP suits are a form of legal harassment. Pursued by law firms on behalf of powerful individuals, companies and organisations who seek to avoid public scrutiny, their aim is to drain the target’s financial and psychological resources and deter critical voices to the detriment of public participation. Numerous individuals and organisations have in recent years increasingly been targeted via SLAPPs, including the NGO Shipbreaking Platform itself, two of its member organisations as well as individual staff and Board Members, for having revealed illegal waste exports.
Currently, no EU country has enacted targeted rules that specifically shield against SLAPP suits. EU-wide rules providing for strong and consistent protection against SLAPP suits would mark a crucial step forward towards ending this abusive practice in EU Member States and serve as a benchmark for countries in the rest of Europe and beyond. Together with other legislative and non-legislative measures, it would contribute to secure a safer environment for public watchdogs and public participation in the EU.
This is why the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, together with other civil society organisations, has engaged a wide range of experts including academics, lawyers, practitioners, SLAPP targets and policy and advocacy specialists, to look into the value added, the feasibility and the key components of possible EU anti-SLAPP legislation.
The result of this collaborative work is a model EU anti-SLAPP law proposing a set of rules which, if in place, would make sure that in each EU country SLAPPs are dismissed at an early stage of proceedings, SLAPP litigants pay for abusing the law and the courts, and SLAPP targets are given means and assistance to defend themselves.
As democracy and the rule of law come increasingly under pressure in a number of EU countries, this paper supports the call on EU policy makers by the undersigned organisations to urgently put forward an EU anti-SLAPP Directive to protect public watchdogs that help hold the powerful to account and keep the democratic debate alive.
Read our anti-SLAPP directive model here.