Day one of Closing Speech for the defence

21st Oct 96 - Day 283 of the Trial

The first day back to court for the presentation of closing speeches by the McLibel defendants began at 10:30am after interviews and photo opportunities out side the court with media from around the world.

Dave Morris began the defence's summing up with a reminder of the issues covered by the case;

Morris explained that the wide range of issues involved was the reason the trial had taken so long. He explained that the issues involved in the case were of great public importance, he went so far as to describe them as some of the most important public concerns of our time.

He expressed the opinion that campaigning groups and individuals in their attempts to educate the public to the existence of alternative points of views, were providing a public service of great benefit and that the press coverage of the case and it issues, and the existence of McSpotlight has helped to ensure that these alternative views continued to be available to the public. He reminded the court that since the issuing of the writs, over two million leaflets had been handed out this was justified self-defence - McDonald's had continued to promote the company, he said, and continued its exploitation, of people animals and the environment.

Mr Morris proceeded to explain that this case was really about censorship. He spoke of the use of libel laws as a means of silencing critics, and the fear of libel as a cause of self censorship (commonly affecting the traditional media). He then talked about the fundamental and essential right to criticise rich and powerful organisations which dominate the world's economy and people's lives before reminding the court that the Fact sheet at the heart of McDonald's defamation claim was not just about McDonald's but about the entire system and culture that McDonald's can be seen as a symbol of.

Mr Morris then attempted to demonstrate the difference between artificial perception and reality. He said that while McDonald's have successfully created an artificial image for themselves through the use of billions of dollars worth of advertising and propaganda - many members of the public perceive McDonald's as a mediocre company selling junk food, aggressively targeting impressionable children and exploiting workers.

The counter claim against McDonald's (for the publication of a leaflet and press releases in which McDonald's called Helen and Dave liars), was the next item on the agenda. He expressed the opinion that McDonald's accusations were a declaration of war on campaigners and free-speech and that the case was a result of 'two worlds colliding'.

Morris then read the following to the court;

"McDonald's UK have admitted publishing 300,000 leaflets and press releases claiming that the Defendants and others have lied to the public by distributing the London Greenpeace Factsheet (a very serious allegation), and therefore the Defendants have counterclaimed against McDonald's for libelling them. Paul Preston, McDonald's UK President defined a 'lie' as saying something untrue which you KNOW to be untrue. This McDonald's must prove, and the burden of proof should be high due to the seriousness of the allegation. However, we will demonstrate not only that the evidence on the facts vindicates the criticisms made in the Factsheet, but also that these criticisms were not and can not have been 'lies' or made maliciously by the defendants - they are all, as the evidence has shown, criticisms which have been made widely for many years by respected organisations, by substantial numbers of members of the public, and recognised by McDonald's themselves. And McDonald's know all this. We submit that McDonald's have been unable to bring any evidence to defend themselves against the Counterclaim. "

Morris commented at length on the unfair nature of the libel laws in the UK (he told the court to expect a full submission on this issue later in the closing speeches). He talked about how government bodies in the UK were not permitted by law to sue for defamation because it was considered that the use of such powers by those public institutions would be a serious threat to free-speech and democracy. Morris argued that the fact that multinationals were able to use libel laws was a form of oppression and a threat to the essential public scrutiny of influential business practises - he added that it was his opinion that multinationals should be treated in the same fashion as government bodies and referred to a recent case in which a case bought by the national coal board against the National Union of Miners which was thrown out of court for that very reason.

Morris proceeded to reminded the court that McDonald's had predicted the case would last only 3 - 4 weeks and claimed that McDonald's had been seeking what he called 'a show trial'. He also claimed that the corporation had chosen to take advantage of the draconian libel laws in the UK since such a case would not be possible in the USA.

Mr Morris touched briefly on the fact that under European law it would be sufficient to demonstrate 'reasonable belief' in the truth of any criticisms made, which he said, had indeed been demonstrated.

Mr Morris also noted that under European Law, a trial will be deemed unfair if a party does not have "adequate facilities" (e.g. legal aid). Mr Morris signalled an intention to prosecute the British government on this issue in the European Court, after the case - regardless of the outcome.

He spoke of the unavailability of legal aid in libel actions and the fact that a jury was denied in this particular case. Morris described the inequality and imbalance and the obvious impossibility of preparations for the two untrained defendants. He claimed that despite the blatant unfairness and imbalance in the case, they still had one major advantage over McDonald's - because they had truth on their side.

Morris claimed that despite the unfairness of the trial, the defence had proved their case and further argued that McDonald's had failed to prove theirs. He spent some time reminding the court of some of the most blatant evidence - such as that proving the use by McDonald's of beef reared on ex-rainforest land, about their unethical marketing strategy, about their wasteful packaging and the cruelty to animals.

There was an hour long recess for lunch at 1pm and court reconvened at 2pm.

Morris made the following points about the London Greenpeace Factsheet:

Morris reminded the court that the witnesses called by the defence had been entirely independent, while McDonald's had called witnesses, either their own loyal officials, or those (such as experts) who on the whole had had a commercial relationship with the corporation and therefore suggested that their opinions should be scrutinised greatly. He touched lightly on the admissions made by McDonald's witnesses during cross examination., and promised to return to these at a later stage.

He went on to stress that McDonald's were seen to have accepted the distribution of the Factsheet (with only one or two minor amendments) when their solicitors made an agreement to that effect in 1987 with Veggies Ltd , the main and continuing distributors of the Factsheet for the last 10 years. And he continued by arguing that the Agents, hired by McDonald's to infiltrate London Greenpeace, testified that people in the group were motivated by genuine concern for the issues raised in the Factsheet - contrary to McDonald's attempts to show that malice was the motive for publication of the Factsheet.

Morris submitted that the context of the Factsheet makes it clear that its not just McDonald's that is being criticised but an economic system and cultural approach in which they are an important factor or example. The context also makes clear that the critics of McDonald's are motivated by a desire to encourage positive alternatives - for a better world - not for any personal gain.

At 4pm the court was adjourned until the 10:30am the following day.

Note: Due to the unavailability of the official court transcripts at this time, this report has not been checked for accuracy against the transcripts but was complied from notes taken during the day and has been checked by the defendants. Any errors will be corrected when transcripts have been obtained.

See also: The report for the following day
and, for summaries of all the key evidence given during the trial;
Trial News 1, Trial News 2, and Trial New 3