European press freedom organisations demand reform of EU defamation law based on Aberdeen research

European press freedom organisations demand reform of EU defamation law based on Aberdeen research

Over 25 press freedom organisations and civic organisations have written to the European Commission requesting reforms to EU law on defamation which are based on advice procured from our Centre for Private International Law. The NGOs note that “the weaponization of the law by powerful economic actors has for too long resulted in the suppression of scrutiny and the consequent weakening of the rule of law in the European Union.”

Our Dr Justin Borg-Barthet has been working closely with press freedom organisations since the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, a Maltese investigative journalist who was killed by a car bomb in October 2017.  Dr Borg-Barthet said “I felt compelled to do something to support the work for which Daphne Caruana Galizia gave her life. My work in EU law and private international law enabled me to see how the powerful are able to suppress scrutiny and undermine the rule of law.  I am thankful to the School of Law for investing in the development of ideas which could lead to important innovation.”

The NGOs are requesting the following legal reforms:

  • “In the first instance, and as a matter of urgency, the Brussels I Regulation (recast) requires amendment with a view to grounding jurisdiction in the domicile of the defendant in matters relating to defamation.  This would remove the facility for pursuers to abuse their ability to choose a court or courts which have little connection to the dispute;
  • The omission of defamation from the scope of the Rome II Regulation requires journalists to apply the lowest standard of press freedom available in the laws which might be applied to a potential dispute.  We recommend the inclusion of a new rule which would require the application of the law of the place to which a publication is directed;
  • Furthermore, a Directive should be adopted to introduce procedural safeguards with a view to limiting the availability of SLAPPs against journalists, activists and citizens. The absence of such measures constitutes a significant threat to the integrity of the internal market, as well as the proper functioning of the Union’s institutional order.  Examples of good practice in the European Union and elsewhere should be considered in order to establish minimum standards throughout the Union.”

The advice was authored by Dr Justin Borg-Barthet, with research assistance from Aberdeen LLB graduate Ashley Kehui Lu.  It is based on a Working Paper entitled ‘The Brussels I Regulation as an Instrument for the Undermining of Press Freedoms and the Rule of Law: an Urgent Call for Reform’.

The letter and advice can be accessed here.

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