The McAppeal Legal Issues

Here is information about the coming Appeal (procedural hearing on July 2nd, (delayed) full Appeal starts on Jan 12th 1999 and has been estimated to last up to 3 months....)


The McLibel Defendants (Helen Steel & Dave Morris) are appealing in the British courts against the parts of the Judge's verdict which went against them and over some of the disturbing legal aspects of the case - the Court of Appeal hearing is scheduled for January 12th 1999. Helen & Dave are appealing to protect the public's right to freedom of speech. They intend to take the British government 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 allowed to sue for libel.

On the 3rd September 1997, the Notice of Appeal was lodged with the Court of Appeal. The Notice of Appeal is 21 pages long and responds to the 800 page Judgment of the McLibel trial judge, Mr Justice Bell.

The two Defendants, and indeed most informed observers, believe that they won a great legal and moral victory against the McDonald's Corporation, who on July 18th abandoned all legal action to try to recover costs, damages or halt the publication of the "What's Wrong With McDonald's?" leaflets.

Some of the major points in the Notice of Appeal which will be raised at the Court of Appeal are:

Point 1. Freedom of Speech: Multinationals, as public corporations, should have no right to sue for libel as it is in the overriding public interest that they be subjected to unfettered scrutiny and criticism (in line with governmental organisations).

Points 3 & 4. Reasonable Belief: If there is a right to sue, then it should be enough for a defendant to show 'reasonable belief' in the words complained of. Alternatively that it should be enough to show that the issues are of public importance or are a response to a perceived attack on the rights of others (eg. by multinationals against society, animals and the environment etc).

Points 5 & 6. Abuse of Process: The McLibel case was an abuse of legal process due to several factors, for example, the imbalance of resources as between the two sides, the denial of a jury, and the delay in bringing proceedings (the London Greenpeace Factsheet was produced in 1986).

Points 8 - 12. Publication: The judge erred in failing to find that the Defendants had no case to answer since neither wrote or printed the Factsheet, and that the evidence failed to demonstrate a single instance of either Defendant distributing the Factsheet. His ruling that mere involvement in a group (London Greenpeace) shows 'joint enterprise' contravenes Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights guaranteeing the right of freedom of association.

Points 13 - 17. Consent: McDonald's effectively consented to the distribution of the London Greenpeace Factsheet by their 1988 agreement with Veggies Ltd and due to the admissions by their hired infiltrators that they had distributed the Factsheet themselves. He erred by showing double standards in his ruling that mere involvement in group is 'joint enterprise' but that this didn't apply to McDonald's and their agents because they had a different motive.

Point 18. McDonalds' admissions: The judge erred by not giving full weight to the numerous admissions against interest made by McDonald's witnesses in the witness box, and by not immediately halting any further evidence on that issue.

Points 19 - 20. The Judge's bias: The Judge erred and displayed bias by generally giving extra weight to the evidence of McDonald's witnesses (nearly all still in the employ or financial ambit of the company) in contrast to the independant evidence of the Defence witnesses.

Points 22 - 51 Issues: (For each of the major issues in the case, other than those the Defendants won outright). The Judge erred in his extreme and legalistic interpretation of what the Defendants had to prove, by failing to distinguish between the criticisms of the food industry/multinationals in general and of McDonald's in particular, and failing to recognise the existence of opinion and comment. He also erred in not finding the Defendants had overwhelmingly proved their case on each issue - based on his own Judgement, McDonald's admissions and official documentation, and the clear weight of the evidence.

Points 52 - 60. The Counterclaim: The trial Judge erred in not finding for the Defendants over their claim against McDonald's for publishing documents attacking the Defendants. This was despite his ruling that the McDonald's material contained defamatory statements about the Defendants which had not been justified. He was wrong to rule that the company was protected by 'qualified privilege' as it had been under 'attack' from the two Defendants (criticising the company for bringing the McLibel court case).

Points 61 - 63. Damages: The Judge was wrong in awarding substantial damages or any damages at all to the Plaintiffs.

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