[ judgement day logo ]
Chief Justice Bell's Verdict
19th June 1997

McDonald's Corporation
First Plaintiff
McDonald's Restaurants Limited
Second Plaintiff
Helen Marie Steel
First Defendant
David Morris
Second Defendant
The Hon. Mr Justice Bell

(read in Open Court on Thursday, 19th June 1997)


That leaves the question of the amounts of damages to be awarded to the First and Second Plaintiffs against the Defendants, Ms Steel and Mr Morris.

A successful trading corporation Plaintiff in a defamation action is entitled to recover, as general compensatory damages, such sums as will compensate it for the wrong it has suffered. That sum must compensate it for the damage to its trading reputation and goodwill, and vindicate its good name such as it may be, but it does not take account of distress, hurt and humiliation as damages to an individual Plaintiff must do, because a corporation does not have feelings to be hurt, however much the defamatory material may have hurt the feelings of individual officers who feel themselves affected by it.

In assessing the appropriate damages for injury to reputation the most important factor is the gravity of the libel. The more closely it touches its trading reputation, the more serious it is likely to be. The fact that others may have defamed a Plaintiff in the same or similar respects is irrelevant. There is no basis upon which I could find that either Plaintiff in this case has a generally bad reputation.

The Defendants criticised the Plaintiffs for bringing proceedings at all, and the First Plaintiff for bringing proceedings in this jurisdiction, of England and Wales, but I am not persuaded that the bringing of these proceedings should be regarded as disreputable, nor that damages should be reduced for that reason. Foreign Plaintiffs are entitled to sue in our courts if they have a valid cause of action here. My duty is to apply the law of this jurisdiction to a claim properly brought within this jurisdiction. I do not doubt that both Plaintiffs brought the proceedings in good faith to defend their trading reputations and goodwill from defamatory statements which they, through their officers, genuinely believed to be untrue, and not to stifle criticisms which they knew to be well-founded.

The extent of publication is also very relevant to the amount of damages.

Where there are separate Plaintiffs who have been successful in the same action each is entitled to an award of damages, and where there are separate Defendants who have published material defamatory of the Plaintiffs each is liable for an award of damages in favour of each Plaintiff but in so far as both Defendants have been jointly responsible for relevant publication they are jointly as well as severally liable for the damages appropriate to that publication. In so far as one Defendant, but not the other, is responsible for further, relevant publication, he alone is severally responsible for the further damages appropriate to that further publication.

Since the purpose of compensatory damages is to compensate the Plaintiff, the means or lack of means of the Defendant are irrelevant. Information as to whether a Plaintiff will or will not seek to enforce a JUDGEMENT are equally irrelevant. I do not know what will happen in this case, in any event.

In my JUDGEMENT, as I have already said in relation to the issue of publication, the Defendants were both responsible for the publication of several thousand copies of the leaflet, directly and consequentially, within the jurisdiction and within the limitation period of September 1987 to September 1990; Mr Morris for the whole of that period, Ms Steel from early in 1988. Their determination to seek to justify these allegations in the leaflet, which I have found to be untrue, has resulted in their wide publication in the national media in this country, which is just what the Defendants wanted, but fighting the case has resulted in justification of some of its defamatory charges, which would not have been possible had the Defendants made a complete retraction as the Plaintiffs wished.

In my view, the unjustified allegations of blame for starvation in the Third World, and destruction of rainforest, and of knowingly selling food with a serious risk of damaging their customers' health, are particularly damaging to the Plaintiffs' reputations. The allegation of lying about their use of recycled paper is serious because of the element of deception.

On the other hand, there has been an element of justification in relation to the Plaintiffs' advertising, their responsibility for some cruelty towards some of the animals which are reared and slaughtered for their products, and the Second Plaintiffs' low pay. Although the Plaintiffs succeeded on other elements of the defamatory of the defamatory charges relating to their employment practices, the evidence did disclose unsatisfactory aspects of their working conditions.

The important charges of deception made against the Plaintiffs in the leaflet have not been justified, but some of the Plaintiffs' publicity material has been shown to be misleading.

The extent of publication of the libels was the same in relation to each Plaintiff, and the seriousness of the unjustified charges and the extent of any allowance to be made for partial justification, were broadly the same in respect of each Plaintiff.

In his final submissions, counsel for the Plaintiffs suggested that a total award of damages in the bracket of £40,000 to £60,000 to each of the Plaintiffs was appropriate. I would have thought a figure somewhere in the middle of that bracket appropriate for each Plaintiff, if all the defamatory statements complained of had turned out to be untrue and without any foundation.

Putting the chaff with the wheat, however, I assess the damages for each individual Plaintiff at £30,000 for the publications between September 1987 and September 1990, for which Mr Morris is responsible, of which I allocate £27,500 to the period from early 1988 to September 1990, for which Ms Steel is jointly liable with Mr Morris.

It follows that there will be JUDGEMENT for the First Plaintiff for £30,000 against Mr Morris and for £27,500 against Ms Steel. Mr Morris is severally liable for the whole £30,000 awarded to the First Plaintiff. He and Ms Steel are jointly and severally liable for £27,500 of the £30,000 awarded to the First Plaintiff.

There will be JUDGEMENT for the Second Plaintiff for £30,000 against Mr Morris and for £27,500 against Ms Steel. Mr Morris is severally liable for the whole £30,000 awarded to the Second Plaintiff. He and Ms Steel are jointly and severally liable for £27,500 of the £30,000 awarded to the Second Plaintiff.

There will be JUDGEMENT for the Second Plaintiff on the Defendants' counterclaims which are dismissed.

I make no further orders at this stage. If any party wishes to apply for any further order such as an order for costs, that party should give notice in writing to the Court and to the other parties not later than Thursday, 17th July 1997, which allows four weeks to read and consider the full effects of this JUDGEMENT which I now hand down. That date falls two weeks before the end of this legal term.

There will be liberty to apply as to the precise form of the orders which I have so far made, if there is any dispute as to their form.

I direct, pursuant to RSC, Order 68, rule 1(1), that no official shorthand note shall be taken of this summary or of the JUDGEMENT and that copies of the version of the JUDGEMENT as handed down, and of this summary, may be treated as authentic.

[ previous page ] [ next page ]