ARTICLE 19 announces the publication of a new report, authored for Columbia Global Freedom of Expression, which examines different judicial responses to strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) around the globe.
SLAPPs are a form of abusive litigation that intimidate and harass journalists, media outlets, protesters, or environmental and human rights defenders. These lawsuits are typically initiated by politicians, public officials, wealthy businesspeople, big companies, and public figures aiming to silence critical voices and stifle scrutiny and public debate.
SLAPPs are deeply concerning from the perspectives of freedom of expression and freedom of the media. Because these lawsuits drain defendants in lengthy and expensive judicial processes, they have a chilling effect on those who are critical of governments, public institutions, and other powerful actors. They also often happen in the context of other attacks, including physical violence and discrediting campaigns.
Because perpetrators of SLAPPs use legal avenues to undermine democratic values and institutions, understanding the impact of different judicial responses to SLAPPs is key to determining how to best combat them.
The report looks into whether courts recognise the danger posed by SLAPPs and whether and how they assess SLAPP cases. While a few countries have enacted anti-SLAPP legislation, most deal with SLAPP suits on a case-by-case basis. We try to deduct some key aspects of judicial responses to SLAPPs in jurisdictions without dedicated anti-SLAPP protection, determine whether these are adequate, and outline what underlying issues need to be addressed to eliminate the problem of SLAPPs.
In some jurisdictions without dedicated anti-SLAPP legislation, courts have explicitly referred to the concept of SLAPPs and recognised the danger they pose to free expression, but it remains to be seen what influence these decisions will have on subsequent judicial practices. To further strengthen protections and ensure consistency in safeguarding against SLAPPs, ARTICLE 19 urges states to adopt anti-SLAPP protections. It is vital that any anti-SLAPP protections ensure that SLAPPs can be disposed of at an early stage to avoid dragging journalists, media outlets, or activists into years of costly legal proceedings.
Find out more about ARTICLE 19’s work on SLAPPs here.