This case in England has everything and does it all for me. It pits two underdogs, David Morris, an unemployed postal worker, and Helen Steel, a community gardener for the local council, against the towering McDonald’s Corporation in a case where, as environmental activists for Greenpeace, they had made allegedly disparaging statements about the company concerning their employment, food, and substandard “green” practices, which they distributed on the streets in a pamphlet.
The defendants took on their own case pro se, and fought for what became the longest running court case in British legal history. They fought in the appeals court of the Law Lords and later the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), and even sued Scotland Yard successfully in their accusation that the police had cooperated with the corporation to their detriment.
While they ultimately made their case that the statements were substantially true, McDonald’s won a victory of sorts, with damages valued at around $100,000, never collected, and deemed to be Pyrrhic in the sense that it was for them a public relations disaster.
For the details of this splendid case McDonald’s Restaurants v Morris & Steel, read up on it HERE.
You will read the following:
On 15 February 2005, the pair’s 20-year battle (and 11-year court battle) concluded when the ECHR ruled that the original case had breached Article 6 (right to a fair trial) and Article 10 (right to freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights and ordered that the UK government pay the original defendants £57,000 in compensation. The ECHR criticised the way in which UK laws had failed to protect the public right to criticise corporations whose business practices affect people’s lives and the environment (which violates Article 10) and criticised the biased nature of the trial due to the defendants’ lack of legal aid, the complex and oppressive nature of the UK libel laws, and the imbalance in resources between the parties to the case (which violates Article 6).