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States must urgently take action together against SLAPPs, says PACE committee

SLAPPs
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There is an urgent need for all Council of Europe member states to act together against SLAPPs – frivolous, vexatious or malicious legal proceedings which aim to intimidate, harass or silence their targets, thus threatening public participation – according to PACE’s Culture Committee.

Approving a report by Stefan Schennach (Austria, SOC), the committee said European governments should enact powers to dismiss manifestly unfounded or abusive litigation, require litigants to prove that their action is not a SLAPP, consolidate multiple proceedings against the same publication, and levy fines for abusive lawsuits.

For their part, lawyers should face disciplinary action if they “knowingly participate” in a SLAPP, judges should be trained to detect and counter them, and court authorities should use procedural powers to reduce their impact.

Although no country has defined SLAPPs in law, the committee said, they always target those working in the public interest, such as journalists, activists, whistleblowers, environmental groups or trade unions. Those bringing them usually have greater resources – economic or political – than their victims.

The report is due for debate at a future plenary session of the Assembly.