Dave Morris and Helen Steel, aka the McLibel 2, won another round in their battle against the McDonald’s burger chain at the European Court on Tuesday 15 February.
Helen and Dave fought a 313-day court battle against McDonald’s to defend themselves against a libel charge brought by the multinational. The pair – low-waged working class people – had distributed a London Greenpeace leaflet in 1990 titled ‘What’s Wrong with McDonald’s?’. The leaflet accused McDonald’s of exploiting children, paying poverty wages and destroying the rainforest.
McDonald’s responded by dragging them to court in an attempt to silence critics. But rather than give up, the pair chose to fight the company’s legal team, led by a QC on £2,000-per-day.
During this case Helen and Dave were denied legal aid. They now have a European Court ruling which says their rights to a fair trail and to freedom of expression were violated by denial of legal aid.
The Court awarded damages and now the government will have to offer legal aid to poor defendants who face wealthy individuals or corporations in the libel courts.
In court their representative argued, “without legal assistance the defence case was under-prepared, unready for trial and was advanced by two inexperienced, untrained and exhausted individuals… It was patently unfair.”
This is a real victory. And it teaches campaigners that tenacity and strength in the face of bullying can win out.
Of course, the libel laws remain. These laws are — nakedly — in place to serve the interests of the rich: people with money are able to use the legal system to protect themselves from criticism.