EU Commission says no legal obstacle to introduce Anti-SLAPP legislation in Malta
In reply to a parliamentary question submitted by Nationalist MEP David Casa, Commissioner Vera Jourová stated it is possible to prevent the enforcement of SLAPP judgments in other jurisdictions on the basis of public policy, an EPP statement read.
The position of the European Commission, according to the EPP, would contrast with that of the Maltese government that rejected an Anti-SLAPP amendment proposed by PN MP Jason Azzopardi to the new media bill on the basis of incompatibility with EU law.
David Casa said yesterday: “It is clear that there is nothing in EU law that precludes measures to protect journalists from these abusive practices in national legislation”.
The Commission has stated, the EPP said:
a. An EU member state has a right to legislate against SLAPP originating in a jurisdiction outside the EU; and
b. That EU member states have a right to protect their nationals against SLAPP originating from within the EU as long as it is done in good faith and in line with declared public policy.
A European People’s Party statement quoted David Casa as saying: “The abysmal reasoning provided by Minister Owen Bonnici to justify the decision not legislate to protect Maltese journalists must be understood in the context of his complicity to silence Daphne Caruana Galizia through SLAPP. Today, the Commission has effectively rubbished the position taken by the Maltese government”.
A strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) is a lawsuit that is intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defence until they abandon their criticism or opposition.
Such lawsuits have been made illegal in many jurisdictions on the grounds that they impede freedom of speech.
Government argues to the contrary
In a statement, the government argued to the contrary, saying that the European Commissioner for Justice Věra Jourová’s response “confirmed the legal position of the Maltese Government that, ‘Judgments delivered from a court of another EU member state on the basis of jurisdictional reasons according to Regulation 1215/2012 are to be recognised and enforced in the requested member state’”.
“Furthermore, the European Commission stated that, ‘the regulation provides for a possibility to refuse recognition of the enforcement of a judgment on the grounds that it would be manifestly contrary to public order.
“However, according to the case law of the EU Court of Justice, the public order exception is interpreted restrictively.
“The Government also notes that the European Commission confirmed that there is lack of competence within the Union to harmonise laws on defamation and to address SLAPP lawsuits and at the same time that, ‘Member states are free to introduce such legislation at national level’, In fact, the Maltese Government, in its new law on Media Defamation introduced new provisions that prevent SLAPP lawsuits initiated in Malta against local journalists.
“However, the Commission adds that enforcement of judgments from other member states must be recognised and enforced in conformity with the relevant EU law.”