The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg declared that the notorious and long running McLibel case was in breach of the right to a fair trial and right to freedom of expression. The McLibel 2 (Helen Steel, 39 & Dave Morris, 50) had launched legal proceedings against the UK government arguing that the marathon ‘McLibel trial’ which lasted 313 days – the longest trial of any kind in English legal history – and UK libel laws, breached the European Convention on Human Rights Article 6 (right to a fair trial) and Article 10 (right to freedom of expression).
The European Court ruled that UK laws had failed to protect the public’s right to criticise massive corporations whose business practices can affect people’s lives, health and the environment.
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. The case was described by commentators at the end of the trial as ‘the worst Corporate PR disaster in history’. 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 asserted in Strasbourg that English libel laws and libel court procedures are incompatible with the convention. They and the UK Government lodged hundreds of pages of written arguments on these issues.
The European Court has now agreed that the McLibel defendants were denied a fair trial due to the complex and oppressive nature of the UK libel laws, and the lack of legal aid and resulting imbalance in resources between them and McDonald’s
The McLibel 2 commented today:
‘Having largely beaten McDonald’s, and won some damning judgments against them in our trial, we have now exposed the notoriously oppressive and unfair UK laws. As a result of the European Court ruling today, the government may be forced to amend or scrap some of the existing UK laws. We hope that this will result in greater public scrutiny and criticism of powerful organisations whose practices have a detrimental effect on society and the environment.
‘ 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
McLIBEL BACKGROUND 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? Everything they don’t want you to know. The McLibel trial began 11 years ago on 28th June 1994. 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 $40 billion-dollar company. The McLibel 2 have refused to pay a penny.
The European Court of Human Rights hearing took place in Strasbourg on 7th September 2004.
Background info on the case, verdict and ECHR application is available by visiting www.mcspotlight.org
High quality (beta/dv) footage available covering whole trial from 1994 to 2005, including Helen & Dave in Strasbourg. Contact Journeyman Pictures. Tel 020 8941 9994 International Tel 00 44 20 8941 9994 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.journeyman.co.uk