On July 27th there was a 'directions' hearing at the Court of Appeal in
London concerning the McLibel defendants' Appeal scheduled to start on
January 12th 1999 (and estimated to last 3 months).
Before the hearing the defendants had applied for the normal administrative procedures and preparations for an appeal to be scrapped as impossibly and unnecessarily complicated, expensive and unfair. It would have meant them supplying up to 200,000 pages of documents to the court, having to raise tens of thousands of pounds and on top of that trying to complete the work by rigid deadlines. Effectively, their appeal was under threat of being struck out.
The defendants represented themselves at the hearing. Such a hearing is itself a departure from the usual practice in appeals. They addressed Lord Justice May, Lord Justice Keen and Lord Justice Judge, while McDonald's legal team of five generally just sat and observed the proceedings.
The hearing was due to be 'in chambers' (ie closed to the public and press), but the defendants successfully applied for the matters to be heard in open court. As the hearing progressed it became clear that the defendants' applications were in general being accepted as common sense - and the Lord Justices agreed to abandon many of the unmanageable and unfair procedures. For example, to avoid the need for reproducing and serving the mountains of documents from the trial, the use of existing 'spare' sets would be acceptable. Further, in recognition of the huge task facing the unrepresented defendants (who had been refused Legal Aid for their appeal only days before the hearing), their application was accepted for a more realistic deadline for completion of administrative tasks and for their written submissions for the full appeal. The deadline of 27th July was scrapped and it was agreed that the defendants generally should have until the end of November to complete most of the pre-appeal documentation. Both the defendants and McDonald's would be expected to serve their detailed submissions about the points raised in the defendants' appeal, by the 27th November.
Finally, the defendants were given leave to amend their Grounds of Appeal to include the specific point (see below) that the the damning findings against McDonald's in the verdict of the trial judge Mr Justice Bell so destroyed the reputation of the fast food chain that the Corporation's claim for libel should have been thrown out.
A further 'directions' hearing was set for September 28th or October 2nd.
McLIBEL APPEAL AMENDMENT [Pts 21A and 63(d)] - leave to amend granted on 27th July: " Further and alternatively and without prejudice to the foregoing, the Trial Judge erred in not finding in the defendants' favour under Section 5 of the Defamation Act 1952, ['the defence of justification shall not fail by reason only that the truth of every charge is not proved, if the words not proved to be true do not materially injure the Plaintiffs' reputations having regard to the truth of the remaining charges.'] when allegations relating to the core business practices of McDonald's have been found proven, namely that, (for example):
'I...find that various of McDonald's advertisements, promotions and booklets have pretended to a positive nutritional benefit which McDonald's food, high in fat and saturated fat and animal products and sodium, and at one time low in fibre, did not match.'
'People who eat McDonald's food several times a week will take the very real risk of heart disease if they continue to do so throughout their lives, encouraged by the Plaintiffs' advertising.' 'It is possible it increases the risk to some extent' [of breast cancer] and 'strongly possible that it increases the risk to some extent' [of bowel cancer].
'The sting of the leaflet to the effect that the Plaintiffs exploit children by using them, as more susceptible subjects of advertising, to pressurise their parents into going to McDonald's, is justified. It is true.'
'The result of all this is that the message of this part of the leaflet to the effect that the second Plaintiff pays its workers low wages, helping to depress wages for workers in the catering trade in Britain has been proved to be true. It is justified.'
'[McDonald's] are strongly antipathetic to any idea of unionisation of crew in their restaurants.'
'[McDonald's] are culpably responsible for cruel practices in the rearing and slaughter of some of the animals which are used to produce their food.' "
BACKGROUND TO THE APPEAL:
On June 19th 1997 Mr Justice Bell ruled that McDonald's 'exploit children',
deceptively promote their food as 'nutritious', risk the health of their
long-term regular customers, are 'culpably responsible' for animal cruelty
and pay 'low wages' - but found for the company on some other points.
Significantly McDonald's have not appealed over these damning rulings
against them. The McLibel 2 also intend to take the British Govt. to the
European Court of Human Rights to overturn the UK's unfair and oppressive
libel laws - challenging the denial of Legal Aid and the right to a jury
trial, and laws stacked in favour of Plaintiffs. They will argue that
multinational corporations should no longer be able to sue for libel.