Dario Milo, a Webber Wentzel partner, and specialist in media law has been appointed by the European Commission (EC) to serve on the Expert Group against Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP). The appointment is for two years.
SLAPPs are groundless or exaggerated lawsuits (most frequently defamation claims) initiated by governments or government officials, business corporations or powerful individuals against critics, journalists, activists, and other more vulnerable parties, who communicate on matters of public interest. The purpose of the SLAPP is to chill freedom of expression by intimidating critics and thus stifle legitimate criticism.
The formation of the European Union's Commission's Expert Group was one of the priorities of the European Democracy Action Plan adopted by the Commission on 2 December 2020. In that plan, the EC resolved to take "action to protect journalists and civil society against strategic lawsuits against public participation."
The main objective of the Expert Group is to advise the Commission on policy initiatives related to SLAPP (such as the necessary legal aid regimes and other procedural issues that member states should put in place, especially with a cross-border dimension) and to provide the Commission with a single point of contact to consult legal practitioners on SLAPP-related issues. This will be achieved by adopting recommendations or releasing reports in this area.
Milo recently formed part of the team at Webber Wentzel that acted pro bono for three environmental attorneys and three activists who succeeded in the Cape High Court in introducing a SLAPP defence in a defamation case brought against them by an Australian mining company and its subsidiaries.
As Judge Goliath commented in that case:
"SLAPPs are designed to turn the justice system into a weapon to intimidate people who are exercising their constitutional rights, restrain public interest in advocacy and activism; and convert matters of public interest into technical private law disputes."
"I am honoured to have been appointed to this important expert group. I look forward to engaging other experts in the field and the EU Commission and to assisting in developing best practice as to how SLAPPs should be dealt with in legal systems. I am delighted that in South Africa, our jurisprudence already provides a useful reference point for how courts can discourage the use of SLAPPs."