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English Legal System (Essay Sample)

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English legal system: a case study of STEEL & MORRIS V UNITED KINGDOM [2005] E.M.L.R 15

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English Legal System
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Institution:
English legal system
A. Case of Steel and Morris Vs United Kingdom (2005); response to questions
1. E.M.I.R; This refers to a system of case referencing.As a form of citation, ‘E.M.L.R’ in the United Kingdom jurisdiction stands for Entertainment and Media Law Reports.
2.The case of Steel and Morris Vs United Kingdom was heard at the European court of Human Rights that is based in Strasbourg, France for a record 313 court days that finally enden in February 2005.
3. Judgment date for the case was made on 15th February 2005
4. Applicants in the case were the defendants in the earlier trial were two low-income activists, David Morris and Helen Steel. They had earlier been sued by the Multinational Corporation, McDonald’s (The plaintiff), for campaigning against its policies. The two made an appeal to the European court of Human rights for being denied legal aid; forming applicants in that case. In September 1990, the company under plaintiffs McDonald’s Corporation and McDonald’s Restaurants Limited put a writ on the applicants who refuted having played part in the publication of the leaflets. They also denied that the words meant defamatory implications to McDonald’s and contended that they meant to portray what is in fact the truth.
5. Material facts of the case: The McDonald’s Company sued the two defendants in this case, which resulted in a trial that made it to the records as the longest in the Legal History of England. The two formed part of a miniature campaign group- London Green Peace, which was expressing concerns against McDonald’s Policies. The campaigns began in mid 1980s and the two had participated in activities that involved distribution of a six page written documents in 1986 titled ‘What’s wrong with McDonald’s?’ The documents (Leaflets) contained allegations that the company was wrongfully exploiting natural resources of developing countries and polluting the environment. It claimed the company’s fast foods pose a health risk, that the company was employing advertisements unsuitable for children while its working conditions for employees were inappropriate. It also claimed that the company slaughtered animals maliciously.
Still, the leaflets’ first page had a cartoon image of a person with eyes covered by the dollar sign, which hid behind a ‘Ronald McDonald’ clown face. The defendants’ application for legal aid was denied since the nature of the case made it to be excluded from the Legal Aid Act. As a result, the two had to represent themselves with aid from barristers and other volunteers who raised a sum to a close of £ 40,000. They however had to pay the respondents an equal sum, which was a reduction from £ 60,000 pronounced as damages by the trial judge initially.
The proceedings involved a lot of paperwork, over 40,000 pages of documented evidence and took two and a half years. The government then indicated that the applicants could not be protected by ascriptions of article 10 designed for media protection since they were not journalists. However, as a requirement in a democratic society, even small campaign groups needed to be left with their space to conduct their campaigns effectively. They were right to contribute in public debates despite the fact that they were not of a mainstream setting. It was in their place to disseminate information regarding matters of public interest like health and environment conservation for example (ECHR).
6. Petition grounds for applicants: The applicants argued that the proceedings of the trial were unfair since legal aid was denied to them as under Article 6(1) and 10 even though they were unemployed and living on low income.
Under Article 10, the applicants claimed that the proceedings of the trial did not observe proportion in interference in consideration of their freedom of expression. The financial implications on the applicants were in fact adverse. A considerable range of legal issues needed to be straightened out before the ruling according to the applicants besides the fact that they had represented themselves bearing the liability for a significant period of the proceedings. Overall, the case between the two applicants and McDonald’s Corporation represented an improper inequality of arms (ECHR).
7. The Court decision: In this appeal case, the European Court of Human Rights had to determine the aspects of fairness and proportionality to be applied to the case about the difference in status of the parties involved.
The trial court ruled that McDonald’s be paid damages accruing to £ 60,000, which was later reduced to £ 40,000 after appeal. The decision by the judge demonstrated his conviction that the defendants were liable to a certain extent. The European Court for Human Rights in turn ordered the United Kingdom to pay EUR 35,000 to the applicants for non-pecuniary damages and EUR 47,311 in respect to the financial loss they experienced during the proceedings in Strasbourg
Prior to the judgment, the court denied the defendants the opportunity they needed so badly to present their case by inhibiting legal aid (citing violations of Article 6 and 10). These findings represented the facts the court used to hold so (ECHR).
As for the European Court of Human Rights’ decision, the United Kingdom had violated Articles 6 and 10 (regarding fair trial and freedom of expressions respectively) it the earlier libel case of the two applicants (Helen Steel and David Morris) Vs the McDonald’s corporation. These articles formed part of the European Convention on Human Rights. However, the court maintained a clear need for promoting free dissemination of information regarding public interests
8. Civil Case: The case of Steel and Morris Vs United Kingdom is a comprehensible civil case since it is seeking settlement between entities concerning the legal duties one party owes the other. In addition, the prosecution offered is in line with the damage caused to the aggrieved party. The punishment or gain is purely monetary, making the case civil.
PART B
Grounds to support the fact that Individuals’ rights to access Justice are denied because of insufficient Public Funding for Legal Aid
Undeniably, lack of sufficient legal aid for defendants in court cases withdraws their prospects to present their cases effectively. People often proceed to trial without legal representation since the government aims to cut down on legal costs it incurs. Such legal aid ought to be provided by the government to defendants. However, as witnessed in many situations, this is not accomplished; the defendants instead face great financial burdens in their quest to access justice. This imminently brings about a disparity scenario and a great possibility of unfairness within legal systems (ECHR).
Fairness and proportionality should be greatly considered in cases involving powerful and financially sound entities against ordinary low-income citizens. The rights of people and organizations to access justice provide that all can seek the services of courts both independent and impartial to enable them achieve the same. Nevertheless, numerous barriers inhibit people from accessing justice including grave legal costs, restrictive legislation, and complexity of legislations, ineffective legal systems and capacity of legal literacy among others (World Bank. 2013).
Even though, insufficient public funding poses a highly significant threat facing individuals seeking justice. A critical factor to consider in this case is the procurement of services of lawyers. Legal aid represents an indispensable aspect both in cases where an individual might be pursuing or defending a case, be it of criminal or civil nature. The absence of public funding of legal aid inhibits individuals who cannot hire lawyers from exercising their procedural rights; this scenario lays on the line the ultimate objective of the courts to provide equal justice for all. It is vital to state that the foremost factor affecting the provision of legal aid lies in government restrictions on public funding. The Justice Systems are at risk of having their mandates undermined by constant cuts and savings on legal aid budgets.
Despite the fact that there exists constitutional requirements in most developed countries to have legal aid available, many citizens remain victims of unfairness in complex disputes trials. Many reports have unsuccessfully been put forward to facilitate stable foundation and availability of legal aid. Furthermore, exemptions made by national governments are seemingly inappropriate. For instance, refugees are denied legal aid within their first months of residence in the UK. This represents a distressing state of affairs for most of them considering they ought to require legal support to secure services that are fundamental and which they are entitled to.
Another case concerns detainees or prisoners who may most likely need to contest the conditions under which they are held. The UK joint committee on Human rights report (Terzieva 2002) states that "in some cases only the retention of public funding will be sufficient to prevent infringements of prisoners’ right of access to court arising in practice." Proposals have been made to remove public funding for legal aid in cases relating to borderline offences. This could adversely affect human rights; a stiffer price to pay for the U.K compared to saving £1M each year.
Most governments cite the prevailing economic conditions as grounds for cutting down on public funding; it leaves one wondering about protecting their mandate to protect constitution-stated rights to access justice. Other vulnerable groups of...
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