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What will happen if Meghan Markle's privacy case goes to trial?

The Duchess of Sussex's legal team has applied for a summary judgment

meghan summary judgment© Photo: Getty Images
Danielle Stacey
Online Royal CorrespondentLondon
January 20, 2021
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The Duchess of Sussex's legal team has been back in court this week at the latest hearing for her privacy claim against Associated Newspapers Ltd (ANL).

Meghan's lawyers have applied for a summary judgment – a legal step which would see the case resolved without a trial.

The Duchess, 39, is suing ANL, publishers of MailOnline and Mail On Sunday, for breach of copyright, infringement of her privacy, and breaches of the Data Protection Act over articles which showed parts of a letter she had written to her father, 76-year-old Thomas Markle, in August 2018.

READ: Meghan Markle's lawyers argue letter was a 'triple-barrelled privacy invasion'

WATCH: Harry and Meghan: A year on from leaving royal life behind

Her legal team say ANL has "no prospect" of defending her privacy and copyright claim, and describe the publication of the letter as a "a triple-barrelled invasion of her privacy rights".

However, ANL claims Meghan wrote the letter "with a view to it being disclosed publicly at some future point" in order "to defend her against charges of being an uncaring or unloving daughter". The publisher's lawyers argue the case is "wholly unsuitable for summary judgment."

A full trial was due to take place at the High Court in January, but last year the case was adjourned until autumn 2021 for a "confidential" reason.

So, what will happen if the Duchess is not granted a summary judgment and the case goes to trial?

MORE: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's kind gesture revealed in LA

MORE: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle: key moments as they mark one year since leaving royal life

harry meghan commonwealth arrival© Photo: Getty Images

Harry and Meghan are now living in the US after stepping back from royal duties

It's likely that Meghan and her estranged father Thomas would come face-to-face in court, and royal aides, past and present, could be called to testify.

A senior royal source told The Sunday Times earlier in January: "A trial would be traumatic for Meghan and Harry, it will expose palace operations, members of staff would be dragged into it on the witness stands... it would be deeply uncomfortable for the institution."

During Wednesday's remote hearing, ANL's barrister Antony White QC told the court that a letter from lawyers representing four of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's former employees, said they would be able to "shed some light" on the drafting of Meghan's letter to her father.

The so-called "Palace Four" are Harry and Meghan's then communications secretary, Jason Knauf, whom ANL "believes was involved" in the wording of the letter, as well as former communications staff, Christian Jones, Sara Latham and the Sussexes' former private secretary, Samantha Cohen.

MORE: 7 facts from Meghan Markle's High Court privacy case

jason knauf© Photo: Getty Images

Harry and Meghan's former communications secretary, Jason Knauf

In the letter sent on their behalf to all parties, their lawyers said that none of their clients welcomed involvement in the case, adding: "Nor does any of our clients wish to take sides in the dispute between your respective clients. Our clients are all strictly neutral."

The letter continued that their lawyers' "preliminary view is that one or more of our clients would be in a position to shed some light" on "the creation of the letter and the electronic draft".

Mr White argued that the letter from the former palace staff's lawyers showed that "further oral evidence and documentary evidence is likely to be available at trial which would shed light on certain key factual issues in this case".

rcj© Photo: Getty Images

A High Court trial could take place if the summary judgment isn't granted 

However, Justin Rushbrooke QC, representing the Duchess, said in written submissions that the letter from the Palace Four "contains no information at all that supports the defendant's case on alleged co-authorship (of Meghan's letter), and no indication that evidence will be forthcoming that will support the defendant's case should the matter proceed to trial".

Mr Rushbrooke added: "The only information that has been provided is that one or more of the Palace Four could 'shed some light' on the creation of the letter and the electronic draft.

"The court is not told what that light might be. This is far from information that will support the defendant's case.

"It is equally consistent with the Palace Four supporting the claimant's case by confirming that none of them had any involvement in the creation of the letter or the electronic draft and/or that Jason Knauf provided feedback on a draft of the electronic draft but no actual wording."

And while Meghan previously won a bid to keep secret the identities of five friends who gave an anonymous interview to PEOPLE magazine, there is a possibility that they too could be called to give statements or evidence. 

At the conclusion of the hearing on Wednesday afternoon, Mr Justice Warby reserved his judgment, which he said he would deliver "as soon as possible".

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