1 July 1999
The McLibel defendants, Helen Steel (33) and Dave Morris (45) lodged a 43 point Petition and 1,200 pages of supporting documentation at the Houses of Parliament today, applying for leave to appeal to the House of Lords - the latest development in the long running McLibel saga, already the longest case in English history.
Steel and Morris, representing themselves, are seeking to defend the public's right to criticise companies whose business practices affect people's lives, health and environment, arguing that multinational corporations should no longer be able to sue for libel. They will also argue that publishing material about matters of public importance and interest should be protected by 'qualified privilege' - a point related to the matters currently being heard by the House of Lords in the libel case of the former Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds vs The Sunday Times. Steel and Morris also seek an end to unfair and oppressive defamation laws and procedures.
But most importantly for McDonald's they are seeking leave to argue that, having now won the bulk of the issues in dispute with the fast-food corporation, they should have won the case outright. After a controversial 314 day trial ending in June 1997, in which the defendants had been denied Legal Aid and their right to a jury trial, Mr Justice Bell ruled that: McDonald's marketing has "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 their core business practices, stating that the Judge was 'correct in his conclusions' ! [McDonald's written submissions 5.1.99]. The McLibel 2 failed to convince the judge on all issues, however, and so appealed.
On March 31st the Court of Appeal added to those damning findings, after a 23-day hearing earlier this year. Lord Justices Pill, May and Keane ruled that it was fair comment to say that McDonald's employees worldwide "do badly in terms of pay and conditions", 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.'" But despite these further findings the Appeal Court only reduced Mr Justice Bell's original award of £60,000 pounds damages to McDonald's (who'd spent an estimated £10m on the case) by £20,000. The defendants believe, and will argue that 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 and the fact that no sanctions have been taken against them.
Should leave not be granted by the House of Lords, the McLibel 2 intend to make the European Court of Human Rights the next stop in their long haul through the legal system.
The McLibel case was brought by McDonald's Corporation who issued libel writs in September 1990 over London Greenpeace's "What's Wrong With McDonald's?" leaflets. McDonald's aim of suppressing these leaflets has spectacularly backfired, with over 3 million handed out in the UK alone since the writs were served, and they are now being distributed worldwide. The 'McSpotlight' website containing over 20,000 files about McDonald's & McLibel has been accessed over 80 million times since 1996.
Background information on the case, verdict and appeal is available from the McLibel Support Campaign and McSpotlight web site(details at top of page).