Helen Steel and David Morris lost the libel case, brought by the fast food giant after they distributed a leaflet entitled “What’s wrong with McDonalds?,” in 1986.
They were refused legal aid and represented themselves through the long trial, which became known as the “McLibel” case. “The denial of legal aid to the applicants had deprived them of the opportunity to present their case effectively before the court and contributed to an unacceptable inequality of arms with McDonalds,” the court said. That meant that there had been a violation of the right to a fair hearing enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.
The court also ruled that there had been a violation of the pair’s right to freedom of expression. The award of damages had been “disproportionate to the legitimate aim served,” it said.
The case started in 1990 and lasted until 1997, with 314 days spent in court. “We shouldn’t have had to fight the longest case in legal history just to challenge a multinational corporation and put our point of view over,” David Morris told the BBC.