ONE good thing, at any rate, can be said about the epic McDonald's libel case,
judgment on which was finally delivered yesterday. It belied the old saw that
justice is for the rich, not the poor. This was a contest between a very rich
company and two impecunious defendants, from which neither side emerged
completely victorious. McDonald's may have won on points, in that on most of
them the judge found for the company and awarded it damages, but its victory was
Pyrrhic. Thanks to the extraordinary way in which the case dragged on, the
original allegations gained far greater publicity than a few thousand amateur
pamphlets could ever have otherwise achieved. McDonald's has as much right as
anybody else to defend its reputation. But if the giant company had been big
enough to shrug off this affair, it would have saved itself £10 million in legal
fees and a great deal of face.
What of the system itself? In an odd way, this battle between David and Goliath was well matched. One side had unlimited funds; the other, apparently, unlimited time. In that each side got what it deserved, the case could be claimed as a triumph for justice. Most people, however, have only limited amounts of both time and money. To them 313 days of hearings, a fortune in legal fees for one side alone, and an 800-page judgment, all over one pamphlet, will look like a system gone mad. In fact, it is not mad, and limiting argument is not something that should be done lightly. In the law, as in politics, the guillotine should have a legitimate role - but so, too, should filibustering.