Two vegetarian activists convicted of libeling fast-food giant McDonald's Corp. did not receive a fair trial in Britain, the European Court of Human Rights ruled Tuesday.

The Strasbourg, France-based court said David Morris and Helen Steel should have received legal aid from the British government when they were tried in what became widely known as the "McLibel" case, the longest in English history.

The two activists passed out flyers in 1984 that claimed the U.S.-based company was selling unhealthy food, was to blame for starvation in the Third World, and was destroying rainforests.

The European Court threw out a British court's 1997 guilty verdict, also saying English law unfairly had put the burden of proof on the defendants to justify every word in the leaflets they distributed but didn't write. The court awarded Morris and Steel damages of $25,934 and $19,451, respectively.

Forbes.com: Update 1: Court: Activists Didn't Get Fair Trial


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