McLIBEL APPEAL - MORE McAGONY FOR THE FAST FOOD GIANT
The verdict for the McLibel Appeal was handed down at 11am today, Wednesday 31st March, in Court 1 at the Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand. There was a lively celebration picket by supporters outside the Court.
In their verdict today, Lord Justices Pill, May and Keane added to the damning findings of fact made by the original trial judge, Mr Justice Bell, against McDonald's core business practices. They ruled that: it was fair comment to say that McDonald's employees worldwide 'do badly in terms of pay and conditions' [Appeal Judgment p247], and true that 'if one eats enough McDonald's food, one's diet may well become high in fat etc., with the very real risk of heart disease.' The Lord Justices went on to state that this last finding 'must have a serious effect on their trading reputation since it goes to the very business in which they are engaged. In our judgment, it must have a greater impact on the respondents' [McDonald's] reputation than any other of the charges that the trial judge had found to be true'. [Judgment p264]
On June 19th 1997, after a 314-day trial - the longest in English history - in which the defendants had been denied Legal Aid and their right to a jury trial - Mr Justice Bell had ruled that "various of McDonald's advertisements, promotions and booklets have pretended to a positive nutritional benefit which their food (high in fat & salt etc) did not match"; that McDonald's "exploit children" with their advertising strategy, are "culpably responsible for animal cruelty" and "pay low wages, helping to depress wages in the catering trade." Significantly McDonald's did not appeal over these damning rulings against them, stating that the Judge was 'correct in his conclusions' [McDonald's written submissions 5.1.99].
The Appeal Court also stated that it had 'considerable sympathy' with the defendants' submissions that the leaflet meant 'that there is a respectable (not cranky) body of medical opinion which links a junk food diet with a risk of cancer and heart disease', that 'this link was accepted both in literature published by McDonald's themselves and by one or more of McDonald's own experts and in medical publications of high repute', and that therefore 'that should have been an end of this part of the case' [p169]. However they ruled that their hands were tied by a procedural technicality so the appeal didn't succeed regarding the 'cancer' issue.[p170-2].
As a result of their further findings against the Corporation, the 3 Lord Justices reduced Mr Justice Bell's award of 60,000 damages to McDonald's (who'd spent an estimated 10m on the case) by 20,000. However, it is an outrage that McDonald's has been awarded any damages at all in the light of all the serious findings made against the company. No sanctions have been taken against the company, despite these findings.
Despite strong arguments by the Defendants the Court of Appeal has failed to provide any real protection for the public's right to scrutinise and criticise companies whose business practices may affect people's lives, health and environment. The court ruled out the submission by the McLibel 2 that multinational corporations should no longer be able to sue for libel over public interest issues, stating that although 'that may be seen as an argument of some substance' they rejected it [p287]. Their view was that it was a matter for parliament, and 'a course which is not open to us' [p23]. Helen and Dave intend to appeal over these and other points to the House of Lords, and then take the UK Government to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary.
The Appeal began on 12th January 1999 and lasted 23 days in court, ending on 26th February. Helen Steel (33) and Dave Morris (45), representing themselves, challenged the use of libel laws as a form of mass censorship, and argued for the overturning of the parts of the original verdict which went against them in the controversial case brought by the McDonald's Corporation.
Channel 4 news said at the end of the original trial that the case would go down as 'the biggest Corporate PR disaster in history'. McDonald's aim of suppressing the "What's Wrong With McDonald's?" leaflets has spectacularly backfired, with over 3 million handed out in the UK alone since the writs were served, 400,000 in the weekend after the verdict - and they are now being distributed worldwide. The 'McSpotlight' website containing over 20,000 files about McDonald's & McLibel has been accessed over 65 million times.
Note: Background information on the case, verdict and appeal is available from the McLibel Support Campaign, or by visiting the McSpotlight website (details at top of page).