Pre-Trial Hearing In Libel Case Over McDonald's

David Sharrock

The Guardian, February 3, 1993

"I'VE BEEN on the planet longer than McDonald's and I intend to outlive them," said Dave Morris, armed with only a bulging file of legal documents as he and Helen Steel prepared to enter the High Court yesterday for the latest round of their case against the world's largest fast-food chain. In September 1990 McDonald's began a libel action against the vegetarians for defamation over a leaflet entitled "What's Wrong with McDonald's" .

The pamphlet, distributed outside its fast-food outlets, made a series of allegations about working conditions and environmental and health issues, which McDonald's vigorously denied.

The case is unlikely to begin until next year. At yesterday's pre-trial hearing, Ms Steel, aged 27, and Mr Morris, aged 38, were seeking to block an application for the trial to be heard before a judge alone.

McDonald's argues that the case is too complicated for a jury.

Conducting their own defence has required them to become familiar with wading through sheafs of seemingly incomprehensible legal-speak. Legal aid is not available in libel cases.

This in turn has prompted an application for another legal move - Mr Morris and Ms Steel versus the United Kingdom at the European Commission of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

"We're going to force the British government to provide legal aid," Mr Morris said. If the application is declared admissible by Strasbourg, the case could be a serious embarrassment for the Government, which is attempting to stanch the flood of legal aid.

Aside from a 1,000 donation from celebrity vegetarian Linda McCartney, the time and expense of fighting the case is being borne by the couple's income support and housing benefit.

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