Scholars at the University of Aberdeen’s Anti-SLAPP Research Hub have again been commissioned to help to shape European Union legislative responses to Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP). SLAPPs are unfounded or abusive lawsuits which are brought in respect of legitimate exercise of free expression. They tend to have the effect of chilling speech and suppressing information.
The European Parliament’s Policy Department for Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs (LIBE) published a study by Prof Justin Borg-Barthet and Dr Francesca Farrington titled Open SLAPP Cases in 2022 and 2023: The Incidence of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, and Regulatory Responses in the European Union.
Through analysis of open SLAPP cases, the authors find that SLAPPs constitute a fundamental threat to the public’s right to access information and opinion on matters of public interest. SLAPPs have been deployed to suppress information across a vast range of matters in which the public has a legitimate interest. These range from energy production, to public health responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, to political responses to ongoing international conflicts. In the absence of robust anti-SLAPP legislation, often the public is left in the dark about matters which affect their wellbeing.
Prof Borg-Barthet and Dr Farrington presented their findings to the LIBE committee on Monday 13th November 2023. The hearing was timed at a crucial phase in the negotiations between EU institutions concerning the adoption of a proposed Anti-SLAPP Directive. The Aberdeen scholars explained that amendments to the proposed text should ensure that EU member states are obliged to bring the majority of SLAPPs within the scope of national laws when implementing the anti-SLAPP Directive. They also propose that key remedies such as the early dismissal of SLAPP cases be made available in respect of all abusive lawsuits against public participation. This is in contrast to the position being advocated by the EU’s member states.
More recently, Dr Farrington and Prof Borg-Barthet wrote a brief article about their findings for the Conversation.