European Commission publishes study on the abusive use of defamation laws across the EU

The Commission has made available a study produced by the Academic Network on European Citizenship Rights, on the abusive use of defamation laws (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation – SLAPPs), which threatens the work of journalists.

The study explains that SLAPPs are groundless or exaggerated lawsuits and other legal forms of intimidation initiated by state organs, business corporations and individuals in power against weaker parties, such as journalists, civil society organisations, human rights defenders and others, who express criticism or transmit messages uncomfortable to the powerful on a public matter. The aim of SLAPP is not to win the case, the study says. Instead the procedure is initiated for the sole reason of having the procedure, in an attempt to intimidate, tire out, and consume the financial and psychological resources of those attacked, with the ultimate goal of achieving a chilling effect and silencing them, which will also discourage other potential critics from expressing their views.

According to the study, SLAPP cases interfere with the concept of a free and functional press, which is a cornerstone of all democracies and a basic pillar of European integration, by preventing citizens from engaging in meaningful debate on public issues. SLAPP cases also interfere with fundamental rights of individuals, such as freedom of expression and freedom to receive information.

The study finds that as there are significant differences in both the procedural and substantive rules of defamation among Member States, vexatious litigants are able to leverage the legal regime to their advantage and against public participation.

The Commission says that this study, and the feedback to be collected on SLAPPs under the public consultation on the European Democracy Action Plan, will help guide the Commission’s action in this area. To read the study in full, click here.