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New EU Directive protects natural and legal persons from manifestly unfounded or abusive legal proceedings

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ΝΕα ΟδηγΙα τησ ΕΕ προστατεyει φυσικκαι νομικπ ρoσωπα απo προδorλως αβaσιμες or κα&tau αχρηστικες δικαστικες διαδικα σiε&sigmaf?

Article by Maria Kramvia – Kapardi *

Freedom of speech is one of the most important human rights. In the 21st century, however, there are cases where protection is needed. One such case was that of Maltese journalist Daphne Anne Caruana Galizia who even paid with her life for her public views on corruption in her country. In addition to violence, another weapon used against the right to free expression is the use of frivolous or abusive civil lawsuits to intimidate or silence a person.

On February 29, 2024, with completion of the Patfox project, (in which TEPAK participated together with 11 other countries) the plenary session of the European Parliament approved the compromise text of the Directivewhich aims to protect natural and legal persons due to their participation in society from manifestly unfounded or abusive civil court proceedings with cross-border effects (Article 1). EU Member States will then have 2 years, until 2026, to implement the Directive (known as the Laurel Law).

The purpose of the specific Directive is, in fact, to eliminate obstacles to the proper functioning of civil procedures, while providing protection to natural and legal persons who participate in the public on matters of public interest, including journalists, publishers, media organizations, whistleblowers and human rights defenders, as well as civil society organizations, NGOs, trade unions, artists, researchers and academics, against legal proceedings brought against them to prevent them from their participation in society.

The draft of the Directive initially referred only to journalists but through the actions of the PATFOX program and the two meetings that the partners had in the European Parliament with the president and members of the Parliament, they managed to inform the European legislators that in addition to journalists and other natural and legal persons including academics may be victimized on a professional or personal basis for their research and publications.

The new version of the Directive that was passed introduces an expanded definition of cross-border cases. According to Article 2, if a case does not have cross-border implications, it will therefore not fall within the scope of the Directive. That is, if both parties are domiciled in the same Member State as the court that will examine the case and all other essential elements are found only in that Member State, then the Directive does not apply.

According to Article 4 of the Directive, public participation means the submission of any statement or the exercise of any activity by a natural or legal person in the exercise of the right to freedom of expression and information, the freedom of arts and sciences or freedom of assembly and association, as well as any preparatory, supporting or auxiliary action that is directly connected thereto and concerns matter of public interest, i.e. any matter that concerns the public to such an extent that the public can legitimately be interested in’ this.

The Directive broadens the definition of matters of public interest, including matters such as:

  1. fundamental rights, public health, safety, the environment or the climate,
  2. activities of a natural or legal person who is a public person of the public or private sector,
  • matters under consideration by a legislative, executive or judicial body or any other official proceeding,
  1. allegations of corruption, fraud or any other criminal offense or administrative violations in relation to the matters these,
  2. activities aimed at protecting values ​​including the protection of democratic processes from unfair interference, in particular by combating disinformation.

The Directive defines as &# 8220;abusive legal process against public participation” (Article 4(3): “judicial proceedings which are not instituted for the actual assertion or exercise of a right, but whose main purpose is to prevent, limit or sanction public participation, often exploiting an imbalance of power between the parties, and which pursue unfounded claims”. Indications of such a purpose include for example:

  • the disproportionate, excessive or unreasonable nature of the claim or part thereof, including the excessive value of the dispute,
  • the existence of multiple proceedings initiated by the claimant or related parties in relation to similar matters,
  • >

  • intimidation, harassment or threats on the part of the plaintiff or his representatives, before or during the proceedings, as well as similar behavior of the plaintiff in similar or simultaneous cases,
  • the bad-faith use of procedural tactics, such as delaying the proceedings, fraudulently or abusively seeking a court or discontinuing the case at a later stage of the proceedings in bad faith.

Member States should establish or maintain the special procedural rules, formula and methods for how the court seised should consider applications for procedural guarantees.

The Directive also provides that, when the defendant has submitted a request for treatment under this Directive, the decision regarding this request is made rapidly, including through the use of already existing expedited treatment procedures under national law. In addition, Member States must ensure that natural or legal persons participating in the public participation referred to in Article 6 have access, where appropriate, to informationabout available procedural guarantees and remedies and existing support measures, such as legal aid and financial and psychological support, where available.

The Directive provides that the recognition and enforcement of a third country decision in a judicial proceeding against public participation by a natural or legal person residing in a Member State should be refused if the said proceeding is considered manifestly unfounded or abusive under the law of the Member State in which recognition or enforcement is sought.

Member States must ensure that the person who is the target of these abusive proceedings can claim, before the courts of his place of residence, compensation for the damage and the costs incurred in the context of the proceedings before the court of the third country.

In conclusion, it should be mentioned that the Patfox program contributed not only to the creation of the Directive but also with the involvement of lawyers in each country (in Cyprus the lawyer was Mr. Theodoros Oikonomou) it became possible to (a) train lawyers in the 11 countries that took part in the program, and (b) to create a pool of “experts” to immediately implement the Directive. The map below highlights the numbers of lawyers who have received training and will be able to immediately take on these types of cases.

ΝΕα ΟδηγΙα τησ ΕΕ προστατεyει φυσικκαι νομικπ ρoσωπα απo προδorλως αβaσιμες or κα&tau αχρηστικες δικαστικες διαδικα σiε&sigmaf?

Finally, the experience with the PATfox program shows that a European research program has the potential by joining forces and coordinating efforts to have practical results (impact), both nationally and European level and, also, not be limited exclusively to research and the writing of reports and findings.

* TEPAK Professor

 

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Source: 24h.com.cy

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