JUDGES will rule today in the final round of a 15-year legal wrangle between the fast-food giant McDonald’s and two campaigners found guilty of libelling the company.
Helen Steel and David Morris were dubbed the "McLibel Two" during the landmark, 314-day libel trial - the longest civil or criminal action in English legal history.
When they lost the case and were ordered to pay libel damages, they challenged the fairness of UK libel laws in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Now that court is deciding whether the libel system - which denied the impoverished couple legal aid to fight McDonald’s - breaches the Human Rights Convention’s guarantees of a fair trial and the right to freedom of speech.
The saga started when McDonald’s acted against Ms Steel, 39, and Mr Morris, 50, who had been handing out six-page leaflets entitled What’s Wrong with McDonald’s, which made damaging accusations against the company.
Neither Ms Steel nor Mr Morris, both from Tottenham, North London, had any hand in writing the leaflets, but found themselves embroiled in a libel action launched in 1990 and which only ended in 1997.
A High Court judge, Mr Justice Bell, ruled McDonald’s had been libelled and awarded the company 60,000 in damages, reduced to 40,000 on appeal.
But he found the leaflet was true when it accused McDonald’s of paying low wages to its workers, being responsible for cruelty to some animals and exploiting children in advertising campaigns.