PATFox – Pioneering AntiSLAPP Training for Freedom of Expression

Background and general objectives

Courts are designed to right wrongs—to achieve justice. But courts can be abused. Vexatious litigation has been around for as long as courts have, but the 2000s have seen an epidemic of a new kind of legal harassment, “strategic litigation against public participation” (SLAPP) suits, commonly directed at journalists (or their media organisations) or rights-defending activists (or their NGOs). Plaintiffs have no reasonable path to victory, but victory isn’t the point; scaring the defendant into silence via costly litigation, bankrupting pesky opponents of exploitative companies or corrupt government agencies, and pre-emptively chilling would-be future exposure of wrongdoing are SLAPPs’

There is no right more fundamental than the right to Freedom of Expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers…

2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

The right to freedom of expression is also reiterated in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights:

1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.

2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.

Article 10 of the Convention also contains positive obligations of the States that are signatories to the Convention “to create a favourable environment for participation in public debate by all the persons concerned, enabling them to express their opinions and ideas without fear” (ECtHR 29 January 2015, Uzeyir Jafarov v. Azerbaijan).

This provides an onus on the part of member countries to required to establish an effective mechanism for the protection of authors and journalists in order to create a favourable environment for participation and to ensure that legislation is not used to intimidate media professionals and journalists.

In the light of this, the project seeks to upskill the lawyers defending media and journalists against companies and governmental figures suing to shut down legitimate criticism. PATFox will identify and train in “defence against SLAPPs” techniques to the 10-20 lawyers in each partner country most likely to find themselves facing SLAPP suits. The partners are NGOs active in Bulgaria, Slovakia, Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Cyprus, Poland, Slovenia and Malta.

Project Activities

§ Develop and deploy SLAPP defence curriculum
§ Monitor and evaluate in-country SLAPP workshops

The project partners will develop and continuously refine a SLAPP defence training curriculum, including optional seminars, and also gather feedback from workshop participants.

§ Conduct in-country SLAPP-defence workshop(s) for 10-20 domestic lawyers

Each project partner will develop a country-specific part of the SLAPP defence curriculum, identity and train lawyers in each of 11 countries, and share materials within the network.

The European Commission’s Proposed Model Law on Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation (SLAPPs) – How Far Does It Go?

Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation (SLAPPs) are commonly identified as abusive lawsuits that are used as a particular form of harassment used primarily against journalists and human rights defenders. SLAPPs can be manifestly unfounded claims, or they could also present other forms of abuse, where the claim is not unfounded but there is an exaggerated use of legal procedures or other aspects of the legal system to harass and deter the person being litigated against. The assasination of Daphne Caruana read more

Launch: Pioneering Anti-SLAPP training coming to 11 EU member states in 2022-23

EC funded project Pioneering Anti-SLAPP Training for Freedom of Expression (PATFox) to provide training to legal professionals from autumn 2022 PATFox will design Europe’s first Anti-SLAPP curriculum for training across member states. Materials will be made freely available to all on project website Project showcase at digital rights conference RightsCon on Tuesday 7 June 12.30 CEST Strategic Lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) are a growing threat to freedom of expression across the European Union, designed to scare journalists and human rights defenders into read more

Pioneering AntiSLAPP Training for Freedom of Expression – PATFox

We are extremely excited to start working on a transnational project which has been approved for funding by the EU Justice Programme. This project will focus on increasing the capacity of professionals that would be likely to face or defend against strategic litigation against public participation (SLAPP) suits. SLAPPs are designed to scare defendants into silence, pre-emptively chilling future exposure of wrongdoing. PATFox will pioneer Europe’s first anti-SLAPP training, upskilling the lawyers representing journalists and human rights defenders against those litigating to read more