The Duchess of Sussex has won her claim that her privacy was breached over the publication of a letter to her father Thomas, the High Court ruled today.
Meghan, 39, is suing Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL), publishers of the Mail On Sunday and MailOnline, for misuse of private information, and infringement of copyright for publishing extracts of a letter she sent her father Mr Markle, 76, after her royal wedding in 2018.
Following today’s ruling, The Mail on Sunday and MailOnline said they would be considering an appeal.
A spokesman said: ‘We are very surprised by today’s summary judgment and disappointed at being denied the chance to have all the evidence heard and tested in open court at a full trial. We are carefully considering the judgement’s contents and will decide in due course whether to lodge an appeal.’
Mr Justice Warby ruled the issue over ownership of copyright of the letter she wrote to Mr Markle can be decided at trial.
In his ruling, he said that Meghan had a ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’ and that it was ‘fanciful to think otherwise.’
The High Court’s decision to grant the summary judgment means that Meghan will now not have to go into the witness box to give evidence in her privacy case, thereby avoiding a ‘face off’ against her estranged father, who was also expected to take to the stand on behalf of the publisher.
Referring to the letter, Mr Justice Warby said in his judgment: ‘It was, in short, a personal and private letter. The majority of what was published was about the claimant’s own behaviour, her feelings of anguish about her father’s behaviour – as she saw it – and the resulting rift between them.
‘These are inherently private and personal matters.’
The judge added: ‘The claimant had a reasonable expectation that the contents of the Letter would remain private.’
He said that the only ‘tenable justification’ for any interference would be to correct ‘some inaccuracies about the Letter contained in the People Article.’
But Justice Warby added: ‘On an objective review of the articles in the light of the surrounding circumstances, the inescapable conclusion is… the disclosures made were not a necessary or proportionate means of serving that purpose. 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.
‘The interference with freedom of expression which those conclusions represent is a necessary and proportionate means of pursuing the legitimate aim of protecting the claimant’s privacy.’
The case is due to return to court on March 2 to decide the ‘next steps’ including assessment of damages, any outstanding issues that must be decided at trial, and costs.
Sections of the 1,250-word letter that Meghan wrote to her father were published in the newspaper and online in a series of articles in February 2019.
During a two-day hearing last month on the summary judgment, Meghan’s lawyers argued before Mr Justice Warby that it should be granted on the grounds that the publisher’s case had ‘no real prospect of success.’
The High Court’s decision to grant it also means that one of the authors of Finding Freedom, a Royal biography on Meghan’s life and marriage to the Duke of Sussex, will not give evidence either.
The newspaper had claimed Meghan co-operated with Omid Scobie and co-author Carolyn Durand or and authorised her friends to speak to them on her behalf.
It also maintains that she gave them permission to share details of the letter with the authors.
Meghan has denied the allegations – as has Mr Scobie, who lawyers for the newspaper wanted to question from the witness box had there been a full trial. However she had admitted that she had given permission to one friend to share details of the letter with the authors to prevent any further misrepresentation.
Five close friends of Meghan’s, who gave interviews to People Magazine in a February 2019 article, which also contained details of the letter will also now not have to give evidence.
They were expected to travel from the US to be quizzed under oath on how the article came about.
Meghan’s lawyers argued during last month’s hearing that the letter was ‘intrinsically private, personal and sensitive’ and was never intended to be made public.
Justin Rushbrooke QC, for the Duchess, said the publication of extracts from the letter was a ‘triple-barrelled’ assault on her ‘private life, her family life and her correspondence’.
He said the letter had outlined the Duchess’s ‘constant love’ for her father Thomas Markle, 76, and her fears for his health.
He described the letter as ‘a heartfelt plea from an anguished daughter to her father’ and that she had no intention of making it public.
Mr Rushbrooke added: ‘It is as good an example as one could find of a letter that any person of ordinary sensibilities would not want to be disclosed to third parties, let alone in a mass media publication, in a sensational context and to serve the commercial purposes of the newspaper.’
Lawyers for the publisher argued that a full trial was needed so that there could be ‘factual investigation’ of the claims being made by Meghan and the role her friends or other associates played in details of the letter being made public.
The publisher argued at the hearing that Meghan wrote the letter to her father as part of a ‘media strategy’ as part of her attempts to ‘to defend her against charges of being an uncaring or unloving daughter.’
They also argued that a full trial was needed so that Meghan could be questioned about ‘inconsistencies’ in her case.
Read the judgment in full here.
SOURCE: Daily Mail, Vivek Chaudhary