In 1985, McDonalds sued left-wing activists in the UK for libel over a pamphlet accusing the multinational food giant of environmental destruction, abuses of workers' rights and selling junk food. The ensuing trial became the longest-running civil trial in English history, ending in 1997 in a Pyrrhic victory for McDonalds, who had lost millions of pounds in pursuing the case, and won £40,000 for their trouble. (The judgment was later overturned in the European Court of Human Rights.) Now, it has been revealed that the leaflet in question had been co-written by an undercover police officer assigned to infiltrate Greenpeace. The officer in question, Bob Lambert, had previously spent years infiltrating environmental groups, even fathering children with activists before disappearing. [more inside]
Franny Armstrong is the director of McLibel, The Age of Stupid, and founder of the 10:10 campaign, which aims to cut 10% of carbon emissions in 2010. She was walking through Camden, North London, on Monday night, when a group of young girls pushed her against a car. One of them was armed with a metre-long iron bar. She called for help from a passing cyclist ... who turned out to be Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London. [more inside]
The SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) isn’t a particularly novel way of stifling dissent: indeed, there are laws in California and other US States to prevent them. Their potential for misuse has also been identified in the Australian context, which has no clear definition of protected free speech. The latest effort at a SLAPP is by Gunns Ltd., a successful forestry company based in Tasmania. They’re suing the ”Gunns 20” for charges including conspiracy and ‘vilification’ (which is not actually a tort). Defendants include a Senator, Dr Bob Brown of the Australian Greens political party. The case is being compared (by the defendants) to the infamous PR disaster McLibel case, however Gunns should perhaps get a better lawyer: their initial pleading has been described by the judge as an "unintelligible embarrassment", showing that a bit of judicial common sense can still work wonders.
You may have heard of the "McLibel Two", the pair of Brits who, as part of a group called London Greenpeace (not affiliated with Greenpeace International, by the by), published a flier decrying the nutritional and corporate values of McDonalds, and who subsequently lost a libel action brought against them by the corporation. It took a few years, but The European Court of Human Rights has overturned the decision, based on the fact that the two did not receive legal aid assistance during the trial (where they represented themselves).
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