news / Judicial Programs

Countering SLAPP Cases in Central and Eastern Europe


03 May 2024

To Matthew Caruana Galizia, head of the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation, the one hundred dubious lawsuits against his mother in the months and years before her death were precisely designed to undermine her investigative reporting. At first, Matthew explained, the lawsuits against the famed Maltese investigative journalist barely registered as a concern. But over time, the growing pile of paperwork—bogus allegations of defamation filed by the subjects of her reporting—became a legal threat. Then on October 16, 2017, Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed in a car bomb after her reporting revealed corruption at the highest levels of government. Joining CEELI Institute’s February 2024 workshop on countering SLAPP cases with other experts, Matthew shared his mother’s personal story with an audience of lawyers and judges.

“The cases were filed with the intent of harassing and intimidating my mother,” Matthew explained. “She was spending so much time in court that the intention of the powerful figures behind the cases—to take her away from her investigative work—was sadly being achieved.” With little merit and no evidence, the cases are designed to do as Mathew noted: take up the target’s time and prevent them from doing their job.

The type of abusive legal action that Daphne faced is known as SLAPPs— “strategic lawsuits against public participation.” Across Europe, the use of SLAPPs is accelerating. Between 2010 and 2022, legal experts counted 570 legal cases across Europe that qualified as SLAPPs. In 2023, the total number jumped to 820.

“It is becoming increasingly apparent that SLAPPs present a threat to democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and the proper functioning of the European Union,” a November 2023 report commissioned by the European Parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice, and Home Affairs concluded.

To combat this assault on free speech, lawmakers in Brussels have spent years since Daphne’s death to craft legislation banning SLAPPs. Those efforts paid off in February 2024, when the European Parliament passed an EU directive to protect journalists and human rights advocates from abusive legal proceedings. 

Member states have until February 2026 to translate the EU directive into their national laws. The EU-supported CEELI workshop, “Countering SLAPP Cases in the Central and Eastern Europe Region,” was therefore particularly timely, with EU action in Brussels taking place on the very same day as the CEELI program in Prague. The training brought together judges and lawyers from across the region to prepare for this national-level implementation of the new EU directive.

SLAPP cases are of significant concern in Central and Eastern Europe, where legal processes are often misused to stifle public participation. During the workshop, legal experts from Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia discussed European and national legal frameworks, and explored how judges and lawyers can ensure fair legal proceedings and procedures to counter unfounded or abusive court actions.

Flutura Kusari, a member of the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE) and co-author of the Council of Europe Recommendation on Anti-SLAPP, described to workshop participants how with the new directive, “journalism, activism, and other types of public participation will finally be protected from baseless, costly, and time-consuming lawsuits.”

Other anti-SLAPP experts who facilitated the CEELI training included Vanja Juric and Justin Borg-Barthet, both members of the European Commission’s Expert Group against SLAPP.

“It is a critical goal to ensure that courts remain places where people’s rights are protected, rather than where litigants aggressively try to use the legal process to undermine those rights,” noted CEELI Institute Executive Director Robert Strang at the workshop. “CEELI is proud to play a role in helping to uphold democratic principles to ensure that journalists and civil society actors are not silenced through abusive legal tactics.”

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