The court ruled the fact UK law denied the pair legal aid meant their case was biased towards the fast food giant and “deprived them of the opportunity to present their case effectively before the court and contributed to an unacceptable inequality of arms with McDonald’s.”

The panel of judges also agreed the free speech of Helen Steel and David Morris had been violated in the case.

The British government, which has three months to appeal the decision, was ordered to pay them a total of 35,000 euro ($A58,000) and offer them a retrial.

In a classic “David vs Goliath” legal case, the Britons chose to take on McDonalds after the company slapped them with libel writs in 1990.

The two were part of a group of activists which distributed leaflets accusing McDonald’s of selling unhealthy food, harming the environment and exploiting children, among other allegations.

While the pair chose to fight the burger chain, their colleagues were put off by the lack of legal aid and offered apologies for handing out the pamphlet titled ‘What’s Wrong With McDonald’s’.

The ‘McLibel’ case, as it became known, case dragged on for three years to become the longest trial in English history,

More than 300 days of testimony involved over 100 witnesses, 40,000 pages of documents, eight weeks of closing speeches and six months of deliberation.

Although the court eventually ruled against them in 1997, the case evolved into an enormous public relations disaster for McDonalds.

While High Court judge Rodger Bell ruled the claims in the leaflet were largely untrue, he found some claims were in fact accurate.

In a major blow to McDonalds, he said the company had “pretended to a positive nutritional benefit which their food did not match” and had exploited children in its advertising, and paid low wages, ‘helping to depress wages in the catering trade.”

Ms Steel and Mr Morris were ordered to pay ₤60,000 (A$145,000) damages.

The amount was later reduced to ₤40,000, but remains unpaid.

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