sussex-high-court-judgement

Meghan Markle loses latest fight in High Court privacy claim

The Duchess of Sussex has taken legal action against Associated Newspapers Ltd

Danielle Stacey

A judge has ruled that the Mail on Sunday can rely on a recent royal biography of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in its defence to Meghan's High Court privacy claim over the publication of a letter to her estranged father. 

Meghan, 39, is suing Associated Newspapers (ANL), publisher of the Mail on Sunday and MailOnline, over articles from February 2019, which featured parts of a "private and confidential" letter from the Duchess to her estranged father, Thomas Markle in August 2018.

At a preliminary hearing last week, ANL sought permission to amend its written defence to Meghan's claim to argue she "co-operated with the authors of the recently published book Finding Freedom to put out their version of certain events".

Ruling on ANL's application on Tuesday, Judge Francesca Kaye allowed the publisher to amend its defence to rely on Finding Freedom.

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The judge said the amended defence did not raise "new defences", but simply added "further particulars" of ANL's case.

She added that Meghan "knows the case she has to meet" and that "there is no suggestion that she is in fact unable to do so".

Justin Rushbrooke QC, representing the Duchess, asked for permission to appeal against the ruling allowing the amendments to the Mail on Sunday's defence.

The barrister said the "inherent improbability" of Meghan having co-operated with the authors of the biography could be demonstrated by "simply comparing what the defendant's own articles said with what the book said about the letter" to her estranged father.

Judge Francesca Kaye refused permission to appeal against her ruling, but Meghan's lawyers could still pursue an appeal to the Court of Appeal.

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Finding Freedom was published in August

A spokesperson for Schillings, who are acting on the Duchess's behalf, said on Tuesday: "The Court has today stated that The Mail on Sunday will be allowed to amend its legal defence for trial regardless of whether that defence is accurate or true, which based on legally sworn witness statements refuting the newspaper's arguments, it is not.

"The Mail has been allowed to prolong this action and try contending its amended defence at trial, where we have no doubt it will fail. This defence has no merit and is in fact false. 

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"We were prepared for this potential outcome given the low threshold to amend a pleading for a privacy and copyright case. The Master made clear that if The Mail on Sunday's defence is indeed weak and without evidence, it would be a house of cards and fall down at trial. 

"This latest hearing was unfortunately another step in a case that has already been drawn out by a defendant who uses the legal process to exploit the Duchess's privacy and the privacy of those around her for profit-motivated clickbait rather than journalism.

"As a reminder, it is The Mail on Sunday and Associated Newspapers who acted unlawfully and are the ones on trial, not the Duchess of Sussex, although they would like their readers to believe otherwise."

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The couple during their last public appearance in the UK

In last Monday's preliminary hearing, lawyers for the Duchess denied she "collaborated" with authors Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand for their royal biography Finding Freedom, and argued that references in the book, published in August, were simply "extracts from the letter lifted from the defendant's own articles".

In written submissions, Justin Rushbrooke QC said: "The claimant and her husband did not collaborate with the authors on the book, nor were they interviewed for it, nor did they provide photographs to the authors for the book."

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Harry and Meghan are now living in the US

During the preliminary hearing last week, it was revealed that Meghan's legal fees for her High Court case could cost up to £1.8m.

Jessie Bowhill, who also represents the Duchess, said: "The overall total costs figures are £1,798,043.57 for the claimant and £1,230,425 for the defendant."

She added: "At the broad brush level, £1.8 million is a reasonable and proportionate amount for a seven to 10-day trial in the High Court in a case concerning private information, personal data and intellectual property rights of a high-profile individual."

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The case is due to go to trial in January

It comes after Meghan won a bid in August to keep secret the identities of five friends who gave an anonymous interview to PEOPLE magazine. 

Mr Justice Warby ruled that Meghan's friends will remain anonymous "for the time being at least," in the judgement given last month.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are now living in the US with their 16-month-old son Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, after stepping back from royal duties in March 2020. 

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