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McLibel Case (wikipedia.org)
69 points by feross 11 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 26 comments





There's a line in there that really stands out to me:

>McDonald's spent several million pounds, while Steel and Morris spent £30,000; this disparity in funds meant Steel and Morris were not able to call all the witnesses they wanted, especially witnesses from South America who were intended to support their claims about McDonald's activities in that continent's rainforests.

It's pretty galling that the justice system, which is a public tool, being gamed in this way by a party with vastly greater assets. It's a bit tricky to see exactly how to fix this, since you don't really want to just give each side a court-appointed lawyer: you really should get to pick your own lawyer. But what to do about the fact that you might want to pick an expensive lawyer?

It seems to me that one compromise would be to recognize that you can legitimately have a strong interest in the case having a just outcome, and thus want to spend more money fighting it, while at the same time not allowing one side to outspend the other.

One way to achieve this would be requiring that each side can only pay into a common pool of money, which is then split equally between the defence and prosecution.

The practical difficulty in implementing this is that a large company (e.g. McDonalds) will have in-house counsel who are not just hired for solely this case, and it would be hard to dis-entangle just how much of their salary should be counted as being for this particular case.


"It's a bit tricky to see exactly how to fix this, since you don't really want to just give each side a court-appointed lawyer: you really should get to pick your own lawyer." I don't know the details of it, but in England while you can pick your solicitor (the person you meet with out of court, who does research, puts together briefs, etc), you do not get to choose your Barrister (the person who represents you in court and argues before the judge. While this has changed to allow for some selection in the past few decades I believe you still don't have full choice.

This page seems to suggest that's mostly because the solicitor will have barristers they prefer to work with: https://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/for-the-public/finding-...

While on one hand I wish that they would have been better funded, the huge asymmetry in funding was a big reason they won their appeal, at least.

What specific testimony could South American witnesses have given about McDonalds activities in the rainforest? It seems like a pretty big reach.

Check out the Bogolia section (number V) in https://slatestarcodex.com/2020/03/30/legal-systems-very-dif...

> it's a bit tricky to see exactly how to fix this

Put a hard limit on the amount of money that is allowed to be spent, and that limit is based on how much the less wealthy can spend.

If the more wealthy wants to spend more, they can give money to the other side so they can spend equally huge amounts.


@grecy: “Put a hard limit on the amount of money that is allowed to be spent, and that limit is based on how much the less wealthy can spend.”

“If the more wealthy wants to spend more, they can give money to the other side so they can spend equally huge amounts.”

What was wrong with this comment?


Your honor we only spent $30,000 on the case, that other $100,000,000 was spent on marketing.

There's a good doc on YouTube covering the case. The pressure looks immense.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V58kK4r26yk

Interesting aside: one of the pro bono lawyers was Keir Starmer, now Sir Keir Starmer who went on to become Director of Public Prosecutions, before entering politics, and recently elected Leader of Her Majesty's Most Loyal Opposition. By all accounts he's showing up our utterly useless PM for the incompetent fool he is.


> By all accounts he's showing up our utterly useless PM for the incompetent fool he is.

To be fair, that's not a plus point for Starmer since that's the lowest of low bars. I'd expect anyone capable of even the basest level of critical thinking and fact checking to wipe the floor with Johnson (and most of the Tory party.)


"English libel defendants must prove that each statement is true" is one of those sentences that rock you for a moment and remind you that you really can't pretend that all Western Democracies are basically the same.

Yup, to the extent that the US decided that it needed to ensure that UK libel law could not be enforced against US writers: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-10940211

Yes. Worse, as I understand it, public figures may have lawful claims for defamation even if all statements are already known true to the court! This is a mind-boggling situation, and helps contextualize why the United Nations Human Rights Committee recommends that libel and slander be decriminalized. It makes the USA's defamation laws, SLAPP-happy as they are, look positively humane by comparison.

> even if all statements are already known true to the court

Can you expand on what that means?

In my understanding, courts don't presumptively "already know" anything at all, except law and precedent. The whole point of a suit is that two parties are contesting knowledge, interpretation, or law. Even if a court's judge(s) suppose(s) something to be true, isn't the whole point that the defendent claims it to be false and is therefore entitled to a hearing?


> Can you expand on what that means?

Not OP, but the way I understood it was that the court already holds hard evidence confirming the statements to be undoubtedly true.


I believe the point OP is making is that you can be accused of libel for speaking the truth.

I think you mean convicted, anyone can be accused of anything at any time.

This changed with the 2013 Defamation Act, although not in Northern Ireland.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defamation_Act_2013

https://services.parliament.uk/bills/2012-13/defamation.html


Not really. It made it harder to sue for defamation and easier to defend but it still doesn't remove the burden of proof from the defendant.

Hence this quote from media coverage at the time: "The McLibel case has achieved what many lawyers thought impossible: to lower further the reputation of our law of defamation in the minds of all right thinking people." English libel law already had quite the reputation even by the time of this case.

This is perhaps the most interesting part:

« In the course of the UK undercover policing relationships scandal it was revealed that one of the authors of the "McLibel leaflet" was Bob Lambert, an undercover police officer who infiltrated London Greenpeace; John Dines, another undercover officer, was also Helen Steel's partner for two years. »


Apparently Bob Lambert also had four sexual relationships while undercover, even fathering a child with one of them despite already having a wife and kids. One woman said she felt "raped by the state" when she learned who he really was, another whom he got pregnant got some money in a lawsuit at least. [0]

What an unbelievably shitty thing to do. Some people have no heart.

0. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Lambert_(undercover_poli...


Bob Lambert is a war criminal who abused the people he was suppose to be protecting What he did (with the support of the Britisht government) was so awful that there isn't even a legal term for what he did.

The great beauty of the anonymous Internet is that people now believe any libelous claims published on random sites. The democratization of propaganda has diminished the power of the press. Thankfully so, since the press has always been an instrument of propaganda.

Who are you going to stop, McDonalds? Reddit's /u/blazeit420? You don't know who he is. And a ban will just result in /u/cockscrew69 picking up the ball.


> [McDonalds] specified they would drop the case if Steel and Morris agreed to "stop criticising McDonald's".[15] Steel and Morris secretly recorded the meeting, in which McDonald's said the pair could criticise McDonald's privately to friends but must cease talking to the media or distributing leaflets. Steel and Morris wrote a letter in response saying they would agree to the terms if McDonald's ceased advertising its products and instead only recommended the restaurant privately to friends.

Brilliant :D




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