Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Coming soon to a courtroom near you -- government sponsored civil litigation

It's almost enjoyable watching the "European Court" take down Europe. This coverage comes courtesy of the WaPo:

The longest-running case in English legal history neared the end of the road Tuesday when the European Court of Human Rights ruled that two environmental activists whom McDonald's successfully sued for libel 15 years ago did not receive a fair trial and had been denied freedom of expression. *** The McLibel Case, as it came to be known, consumed 314 days in court and cost McDonald's more than $16 million in legal fees as well as a super-sized helping of bad publicity. Although a British judge upheld the activists' right to make some of their allegations, McDonald's won the original verdict in 1997 and a $98,000 libel award. That sum was reduced by one-third on appeal. On Tuesday, the rest of it went down the drain. A seven-judge panel in Strasbourg, France, threw out the original judgment, ruling unanimously that Morris and Steel should have received legal aid from the British government to defend themselves. The ruling was a blow not only to McDonald's but also to Britain's libel laws, which compared with U.S. laws tend to favor plaintiffs. *** In 2000, Steel and Morris went to the European court, which hears claims of violations of the European Convention on Human Rights, a 1950 document laying out fundamentals of human rights in post-World War II Europe. Their action against the British government contended that its refusal to give legal aid denied them a free hearing in violation of the convention and deprived them of freedom of expression. In its ruling, the Strasbourg court emphasized that the activists had not brought the original case but were simply seeking to protect their right of free expression against legal action by a multinational corporation. "As a result of the law as it stood in England and Wales, the applicants had the choice either to withdraw the leaflet and apologize to McDonald's, or bear the burden of proving, without legal aid, the truth of the allegations contained in it," wrote the judges. "Given the enormity and complexity of that undertaking, the court does not consider that the correct balance was struck between the need to protect the applicants' rights to freedom of expression and the need to protect McDonald's rights and reputation." The court ordered the British government to pay Morris and Steel the equivalent of about $105,000 in damages and costs. The government has three months to appeal the decision.
Keep in mind that the Court is saying that, in a civil trial, the State was required to provide free legal services for defendants accused of libel. At least in America, we still have civil defendants seek pro bono lawyers or private legal funds. Can you imagine our legal system if it were entirely government funded for individuals in cases involving corporations. Truly, it doesn't bear thinking about.