Statewatch News Online: McLibel case in Strasbourg court on 7 September

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McLibel case in Strasbourg court on 7 September

Media Release: 31st August 2004 from:

McLibel Support Campaign / London Greenpeace
5 Caledonian Rd, London,N1 9DX, UK Email:

"McLibel 2 vs UK Government
European Court, Strasbourg - 7th Sept

The McLibel 2 (Helen Steel, 39 & Dave Morris, 50) will be attending the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg on 7th September 2004. The ECHR have 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 European case, known as Steel and Morris vs UK was launched on 20th September 2000, exactly 10 years after the McDonald’s Corporation served writs on the McLibel 2 in an attempt to prevent the distribution of leaflets criticising the company. The McLibel trial became the longest case in English legal history, lasting 313-days, in which the McLibel 2 represented themselves against McDonald's. The trial and a 23-day appeal in 1999, resulted in a 'mixed verdict' in which damning rulings were made against McDonald’s core business practices. Despite the rulings, no sanctions were ordered against McDonald's, yet the McLibel 2 were ordered to pay the company damages [See 'Background' below]. They have refused to pay a single penny.

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. [Article 10]

- The McLibel case was unfair due to several factors, including the level of proof required, and the imbalance of financial and legal resources as between the two sides - the defendants were denied legal aid and had to defend themselves against McDonald's who spent an estimated £10m.[Article 6]

The McLibel Applicants and the UK Government have already lodged hundreds of pages of written arguments on these issues. 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 would be declared to be in breach of Convention, and could be required to amend or scrap some of these laws and procedures.

' The end of our long legal road is at last in sight. Having largely beaten McDonald's, we are challenging the notoriously oppressive and unfair UK laws. Multinational corporations should not be able to use the courts to try to suppress public debate and criticism. '

' But whatever happens in Strasbourg, the McLibel campaign has already proved that determined and widespread grass roots protests and defiance can undermine those who try to silence their critics, and also render oppressive laws unworkable. The continually growing opposition to McDonald's and all it stands for is a vindication of all the efforts of those around the world who have been exposing and challenging the corporation's business practices.' - Helen Steel and Dave Morris - the McLibel applicants."

[Please note that the Applicants will be travelling and therefore unavailable for comment from Sunday 5th until the hearing on 7th Sept. The case number is Application 68416/01 and will be heard during the morning].


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 WithMcDonald's? Everything they don’t want you to know". The McLibel trial began 10 years ago on 28th June 1994, and on June 19th 1997, after a trial lasting 313 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 £40,000damages 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."

Background info on the case, verdict and appeal is available by visiting

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