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McLibel Support Campaign
P R E S S . R E L E A S E . 06/05/2004
European Court declares McLibel case admissible  
Five years after the McLibel 2 (Helen Steel, 38 & Dave Morris, 50) last appeared in Court for their appeal, the European Court of Human Rights has declared admissible their claim that the long running McLibel trial breached their Article 6 right to a fair trial and Article 10 right to freedom of expression. The case will be heard in full at the European Court on 7th September 2004.

The European case, known as Steel and Morris vs UK was launched on 20th September 2000, following the refusal, in April 2000, of the House of Lords to allow them leave for a full appeal to be heard there after a controversial trial and appeal resulting in a 'mixed verdict' in which damning rulings were made against McDonalds' core business practices - yet the defendants were ordered to pay the company damages [See 'Background' below].

The McLibel 2 are asserting that English libel laws and libel court procedures are incompatible with the convention. The main arguments in Europe will be:

- Multinational 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 (as applies to governmental organisations), since they have such huge power and influence over people's lives and the environment.

- If there is a right to sue, it should be a defence for a defendant to show 'reasonable belief' in the words complained of, or that the issues are of public importance.

- The McLibel case was unfair due to several factors, including the level of proof required, the imbalance of financial and legal resources as between the two sides and the denial of a jury trial.

The McLibel 2 are seeking to defend the public's right to criticise companies whose business practices affect people's lives, health and the environment. They also seek an end to oppressive, unfair and archaic defamation laws and procedures in general, and in the McLibel case in particular. If they win, the UK government could be forced to amend or scrap some of these laws and procedures.

The McLibel 2 said today "Our legal marathon is now drawing to a close - the McLibel trial ended with egg all over McDonald's public face, but now we're taking on the Government to challenge the UK's oppressive and unfair libel laws."

McDonald's Corporation issued writs against the McLibel 2 on 20th September 1990 alleging they had been libelled in the London Greenpeace factsheet "What's Wrong with McDonald's?". The McLibel trial began almost 10 years ago on 28th June 1994, and on June 19th 1997, after a trial lasting 314 days (the longest trial ever in England), Mr Justice Bell ruled that McDonald's marketing has "pretended to a positive nutritional benefit which their food (high in fat & salt etc) did not match"; that McDonald's "exploit children" with their advertising strategy; are "culpably responsible for animal cruelty"; and "pay low wages, helping to depress wages in the catering trade."

On March 31st 1999 the Court of Appeal added to those damning findings. Lord Justices Pill, May and Keane ruled that it was fair comment to say that McDonald's employees worldwide "do badly in terms of pay and conditions", and true that "if one eats enough McDonald's food, one's diet may well become high in fat etc., with the very real risk of heart disease." However the Courts ruled that the McLibel 2 had still libelled McDonald's over some points and outrageously ordered them to pay 40,000 damages to the $35 billion-dollar company. The McLibel 2 have refused to pay a penny.

McDonald's, described by commentators at the end of the McLibel trial as being responsible for 'the worst Corporate PR disaster in history', continues to be an ever-growing focus for controversy and opposition around the world.  
contact details 
McLibel Support Campaign
5 Caledonian Road, London, N1 9DX, UK.
Tel/Fax: +44 (207) 713 1269
related links  
- press releases & statements
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- The McLibel Trial
- witnesses statements, transcripts, evidence