Duchess Meghan wins bid to avoid High Court trial in privacy case

By Heather Cichowski and Zach Harper, with files from Danielle Stacey

Duchess Meghan has won a High Court privacy claim over the publication of part of a "private and personal" letter to her father, Thomas Markle, and has thanked Prince Harry, her mother, Doria Ragland and legal team for their support in the case.

The Duchess of Sussex sued Associated Newspapers Ltd (ANL), publishers of MailOnline and Mail On Sunday, for infringement of privacy, breach of copyright and breach of the Data Protection Act over articles that included parts of a handwritten letter she had sent Thomas in 2018.

On Feb. 11, Mr. Justice Warby granted Meghan a "summary judgment" over her claim of the misuse of private information, which she had made against the publisher of Mail On Sunday and MailOnline over the parts of the letter's publication.

Doria Ragland, Meghan and Harry are seen at an event in London in 2018. Photo: © Ben Stanstall - WPA Pool/Getty Images

"The claimant had a reasonable expectation that the contents of the letter would remain private," Mr. Justice Warby said in his decision. He went on to say the "Mail articles interfered with that reasonable expectation."

"The only tenable justification for any such interference was to correct some inaccuracies about the Letter contained in the People Article," he added. "On objective review of the Articles in the light of he surrounding circumstances, the inescapable conclusion is that, save to a very limited extent, the disclosures made were not a necessary or proportionate means of serving that purpose.

The Royal Courts of Justice, home to the High Court, in London. Photo: © DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images

"For the most part they did not serve that purpose at all. Taken as a whole the disclosures were manifestly excessive and hence unlawful. There is no prospect that a different judgment would be reached after a trial."

Mr. Justice Warby also agreed Meghan's copyright had been breached in the case. But he said a trial should determine whether Meghan or Jason Knauf, the former communications secretary for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, was "the sole author" of the letter.

Another virtual hearing will be held on March 2 to decide the next steps and "matters consequential on this judgment."

A full trial had originally been due to take place at the High Court in London in January 2021, but last year the case was postponed for nine months, until fall 2021, on confidential grounds. The summary judgment was to see whether Meghan would succeed in a bid to have parts of her privacy claim against ANL resolved without the case having to go to trial.

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At the last remote court hearing in January, the Duchess of Sussex's legal team stated that publishing the letter was "a triple-barrelled invasion of her privacy rights."

The letter in question is the one the Duchess of Sussex wrote to her father in August 2018 shortly after the May nuptials of her and Prince Harry, which her father was unable to attend.

The newlyweds leave St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle after their wedding on May 20. 2018. Photo: © Jane Barlow/PA Images via Getty Images

The duchess's legal representative, Justin Rushbrooke QC, said the "contents and character of the letter were intrinsically private, personal and sensitive in nature" and because of this she "had a reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of the contents of the letter."

Meanwhile, Antony White QC, who was representing the Associated Newspapers Ltd, argued the case was "wholly unsuitable for summary judgment." Additionally, he said the letter was penned "with a view to it being disclosed publicly at some future point."

The mom of one was granted permission to apply for the summary judgment in January 2021, but she previously lost a bid to stop royal biography, Finding Freedom, from being used by the opposing side as part of its defence.

In August 2020, the former actress won a bid to keep the identities of five friends who had given a magazine interview private "for the time being at least."

Here is Meghan's full statement in the case:

"After two long years of pursuing litigation, I am grateful to the courts for holding Associated Newspapers and The Mail on Sunday to account for their illegal and dehumanizing practices.

"These tactics (and those of their sister publications MailOnline and the Daily Mail) are not new; in fact, they've been going on for far too long without consequence. For these outlets, it's a game. For me and so many others, it's real life, real relationships, and very real sadness. The damage they have done and continue to do runs deep.

"The world needs reliable, fact-checked, high-quality news. What The Mail on Sunday and its partner publications do is the opposite. We all lose when misinformation sells more than truth, when moral exploitation sells more than decency, and when companies create their own business model to profit from people's pain.

"But for today, with this comprehensive win on both privacy and copyright, we have all won. We now know, and hope it creates legal precedent, that you cannot take somebody' privacy and exploit it in a privacy case, as the defendant has blatantly done over the past two years.

"I share this victory with each of you – because we all deserve justice and truth, and we all deserve better.

"I particularly want to thank my husband, my mom, and legal team, and especially Jenny Afia for her unrelenting support throughout this process."

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