On Thursday 02 February, Ramona Strugariu MEP convened the first “shadows” meeting of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs to discuss the European Commission’s proposed Anti-SLAPP Directive. Professor Justin Borg-Barthet, convener of the University of Aberdeen’s Anti-SLAPP Research Hub, was invited to provide expert evidence on the strengths and weaknesses of the proposed directive.
SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) are vexatious lawsuits brought to suppress public scrutiny of matters of public interest. Unlike legitimate litigation, they are deployed to use the judicial process to exert undue pressure on respondents to refrain from engaging in acts of public participation. Members of the University of Aberdeen’s Anti-SLAPP Research Hub have been at the forefront of the development of legal responses to this growing problem, advising the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE) on legal innovations to safeguard freedom of expression.
At the European Parliament, Professor Borg-Barthet explained that the draft legislation is a significant step in the right direction. He welcomed the overall structure of the Directive and recalled that it is the product of extensive analysis to develop a sound balance of rights between interested parties.
He said, however, that there remains room for improvement. In particular, Professor Borg-Barthet noted that the centrepiece of effective anti-SLAPP legislation is the remedy of early dismissal of abusive claims. He explained that the proposed Directive restricts this remedy to manifestly unfounded claims, potentially limiting the effectiveness of the proposed legislation in respect of other types of abusive claim. By way of example, he cited the laws of California and Quebec, which provide useful models which could be transposed to fit the European context.