PN proposes anti-SLAPP bill

Photo by Calum MacAulay on Unsplash

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

The Nationalist Party has presented a bill with the aim of protecting journalists from the threat of so-called SLAPP suits.

A SLAPP – strategic lawsuit against public participation – is a lawsuit that is deemed to have been filed with the intent of silencing critics. People filing SLAPPs may not necessarily expect to win the lawsuit, but file them with the intent of forcing their critics to mount an expensive defence or abandon their criticism.

Proposal targets ‘forum shopping’ for libel suits

A common tactic used in libel cases deemed to constitute SLAPPs is forum shopping – seeking to have one’s case heard in a court believed most likely to provide a favourable judgment or suit one’s aim.

The PN bill seeks to target this practice through an amendment to the Code of Organisation and Civil Procedure: specifically the section relating to the enforcement of judgments by foreign courts. The law already specifies that such judgments shall not be enforced if they contain a disposition “contrary to public policy or to the internal public law of Malta.”

The proposed amendment would additionally specify that judgments delivered on libel and similar cases “against a person or entity normally resident in Malta shall be deemed to be contrary to the public policy or to the internal public law of Malta unless the said person or entity has defended the case in the foreign court that shall have delivered the judgment that is sought to be enforced.”

Journalism under threat, PN insists

In a statement, the PN noted that journalists have been crucial in exposing corruption cases, but in doing so, they have been threatened by the use of SLAPPs. It added that their use escalated following the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

However, it said, all the government has done so far was to vote down an anti-SLAPP provision proposed as an addition to the Media and Defamation Act approved in 2018.

The bill was presented by PN leader Adrian Delia, deputy leader David Agius, opposition whip Robert Cutajar and MPs Therese Comodini Cachia and Jason Azzopardi.