In an effort to shield journalists and activists from defamatory lawsuits meant to stifle public criticism, the European Parliament and EU member states agreed on draft new regulations on Thursday.
Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, praised the agreement to “protect those who try to reveal inconvenient truths” on X, formerly Twitter.
The goal of so-called Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) is to intimidate opponents by threatening to take heavy legal action.
Media outlets and NGOs are frequently forced to back down out of fear of drawn-out and expensive legal battles, even though the actions occasionally seem likely to fail.
The new rules would allow a person targeted by a SLAPP lawsuit to request a rapid rejection by the courts.
A court can also decide to make the plaintiff bear the costs of the proceedings, particularly the legal fees of the person facing the lawsuit.
The European Commission first proposed the draft directive in April 2022 to combat these abusive procedures, expressing concern about their increasing use.
The commission also recommended that European Union countries should not recognise or enforce SLAPP cases brought against them in non-EU countries, such as Britain.
Rich plaintiffs flock to London — dubbed the world’s “libel capital” — to bring lucrative cases under British law, which places the burden of proof on journalists.
The agreement will still need to be formally approved by the European Parliament.
(with inputs from AFP)