Human Rights Win for 'McLibel Two' Prompts UK Law Review

Article excerpt


The Government is studying the libel laws after victory for the 'McLibel Two' in the European Court of Human Rights. David Morris and Helen Steel, who were successfully sued 15 years ago by fast-food chain McDonald's, yesterday won their claim that the trial was an unfair fight.

The Strasbourg Human Rights judges said the UK legal system breached the right to a fair trial and freedom of expression.

Now the Department of Constitutional Affairs is investigating whether the libel laws - particularly the right to legal aid to defend defamation actions - need updating.

Mr Morris and Ms Steel were refused legal aid because it was not available under English law when McDonald's issued a writ over allegations in leaflets challenging the company's working practices and the quality of its food.

After the trial - which turned into the longest civil or criminal case in English legal history - the law was amended to offer legal aid in libel cases in exceptional circumstances.

But the Lord Chancellor admitted that funding such actions still had very low priority.

Yesterday afternoon a Department of Constitutional Affairs spokeswoman said, 'We are studying the judgment very carefully.'

Meanwhile Mr Morris and Ms Steel were celebrating the end of a 15-year legal saga triggered by their part in distributing anti-McDonald's leaflets outside a McDonald's branch in Charing Cross, central London.

They were back there yesterday with a banner proclaiming, 'Celebrate 20 years of global resistance to McWorld.'

Mr Morris, 50, said, 'Obviously we are elated. It is a total victory in terms of the ruling.

' The campaign has gone from strength to strength with leaflets handed out in millions around the world.

'The Government will have to change the law but our overall objective is to encourage people to speak for themselves.

'This [verdict] encourages people to speak up and defend their own interest.'

Ms Steel, 39, now a trainee electrician, said the battle had been 'exhausting' and a 'complete nightmare' but it had been important to defend the public's right to criticise rich and powerful organisations. She said, 'We never paid any money to McDonald's and we've got absolutely no intention of paying them anything. It's them, we think, that need to apologise to the public.'

The David-and-Goliath saga was triggered when McDonald's objected to the six-page leaflets called What's Wrong with McDonald's.

The leaflets, containing damaging allegations about the burger giant, were compiled by London Greenpeace - no link to the Greenpeace International environmental group. …