Ireland should do more to protect media and human rights groups from lawsuits, says Commissioner


The EU has urged Ireland to align the defamation law here with new EU rules aimed at stopping abuses of the legal system and so-called defamation tourism, the bloc said.

According to a draft EU law published on Wednesday, Irish courts would have to dismiss what are known as “strategic public participation claims” (SLAPPs) by claimants in another country or in cases with “cross-border implications”. The EU’s move aims to protect the rights of media and human rights defenders to release information in the public interest.

Commission Vice-President Vera Jourova said Ireland still has time to amend its anti-SLAPP plans to reflect the EU’s changes.

“I believe that with our recommendation we can convince states to take action and also those who have already started drafting their laws to refine national laws. There’s still time for that,” she says.

Ireland is one of four EU countries considering introducing anti-SLAPP measures into national law, along with Lithuania, Malta and Denmark.

Attorney General Helen McEntee was given the green light by Cabinet last month to amend the 2009 Defamation Act after a review.

Neville Cox, a law professor at Trinity College Dublin and co-author of a recent book on defamation law in Ireland, said the EU proposal will put the minister under “time pressure” to publish a draft law.

The test of the new Irish law will be whether it seeks to abolish jury trials in libel cases and how it deals with the constitutional right to a good name.

Professor Cox said that there is “no way a jury can decide” what constitutes an “abusive” or “annoying” lawsuit. “That would be far too complex.”

He said any cases struck down under potential EU or Irish legislation will still be open to appeal.

“Presumably the defendants will continue to be under comparative pressure,” he said.

The EU rules target London, which is a key target for people looking to sue journalists for defamation, and seek to root out EU states that prosecute defamation cases.

Ms Jourova’s name reviewed Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich’s recently settled lawsuit against journalist Catherine Belton over allegations in her best-selling book, Putin’s People.

Murdered Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia also faced defamation charges in the UK before she was killed.

“This law should discourage anyone from going to London for such an appeal,” Ms Jourova said.

“With [the] Britain, we need to discuss how we can have better guarantees that the abusive litigation will not continue on British territory and turn against the journalists and human rights defenders of the European Union.”

The EU wants national courts to dismiss cross-border defamation cases that are “manifestly unfounded”.

Under the rules – which have yet to be approved by MEPs and governments – plaintiffs who bring SLAPPs against journalists or human rights groups must prove they are not unfounded and pay all legal costs of each case.

Courts should impose “dissuasive” penalties for abusive claims and refuse to recognize similar judgments handed down to EU citizens in countries outside the bloc, the rules say.

Journalists and human rights activists affected by abusive defamation lawsuits can seek compensation.

Separately, the bloc recommends governments provide the same protections for domestic libel claims, although this is not a legal requirement. Ireland should do more to protect media and human rights groups from lawsuits, says Commissioner

Fry Electronics Team

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