Owen Bonnici’s argument about the obligation to enforce EU judgements as a reason not to have anti-SLAPP rules in our law does not hold water. If it did it has become pointless to even bother to legislate at all.
Take his initiative of introducing a ‘single-publication rule’ in our libel laws for example.
It’s been introduced again in the aftermath of a little bit of abuse addressed at everyone’s favourite target: Daphne Caruana Galizia.
She was sued by a bully of a developer she dared criticise nineteen times for a single article she wrote. Almost every line in that article was contested by its subject and a separate law suit filed on each.
Everyone saw through that of course. Silvio Debono was not offended 19 times for 19 things Daphne Caruana Galizia said. The intent was to overwhelm the journalist with the cost and the burden of defending the same thing 19 times over. He could afford to, what with an army of lawyers and whatnot and copious revenues from development on cheaply acquired public land. He assumed she would not be able to afford her own defense or that at least this exercise would have the effect of scaring her (and anybody else) off criticising him again.
Owen Bonnici proposed legislation that would prevent this. The ‘single-publication rule’ means that if someone is offended by an article they can sue once over it and list their complaints about it in that single legal action.
Here’s the rub. Not every EU jurisdiction necessarily has a similar rule. Some are like Malta who up to now allowed Silvio Debono to sue Daphne Caruana Galizia 19 times over the same article.
So what happens if Owen Bonnici is right about his objections to anti-SLAPP laws? Silvio Debono could hire lawyers in another country where multiple law suits can be filed on the same piece, win the case there and then enforce those judgements here. Making Malta’s laws redundant.
Obviously that’s not what would happen. What really happens is that the Maltese courts would find the judgement from outside inconsistent with public policy in Malta and refuse to enforce it. Because Malta’s legislator would have introduced a law specifically forbidding this sort of libel tourism.
Why not do the same thing for SLAPP suits? Because Owen Bonnici’s bosses, or rather his boss’s bosses want that piece of deterrent there readily available.