Stefan Jeremiah / AP
LONDON – The Duchess of Sussex on Thursday won the latest phase of her long-running privacy case against a British newspaper publisher over the publication of parts of a letter she wrote to her estranged father.
The Court of Appeal in London upheld a High Court ruling issued by the publisher Mail on Sunday and the MailOnline website unjustifiably violated the privacy of former Meghan Markle by reproducing much of the handwritten letter she sent to her father, Thomas Markle, after she married Prince Harry in 2018.
The Associated Newspapers challenged the decision at the Court of Appeal, which held a hearing last month. Senior Judge Geoffrey Vos dismissed the appeal, saying Thursday in court that “the Duchess had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the content of the letter. This content was personal, private and not a matter of legitimate public interest.”
The publisher said it was “very disappointed” and was considering an appeal to the British Supreme Court.
In a statement, Meghan, 40, condemned the publisher for treating the lawsuit as “a game without rules” and said the decision was “a victory, not only for me but for anyone who has ever felt afraid to stand up for the right. .”
“What matters most is that we are now collectively brave enough to reshape a tabloid industry that forces people to be cruel and profit from the lies and pain they create,” she said.
Trial centered on a letter Meghan says she only intended for her father to see
The Associated Newspapers published about half of the letter in five articles in August 2018. Their lawyers disputed Meghan’s claim that she did not intend the letter to be seen by anyone other than her father.
They said that correspondence between Meghan and her then communications secretary, Jason Knauf, showed that the Duchess suspected that her father could leak the letter to journalists and wrote it with that in mind.
The publisher also argued that the publication of the letter was part of Thomas Markle’s right to reply after one People magazine interview with five of Meghan’s friends who claimed he “cruelly cold” his daughter up to her royal wedding.
But Vos said that the article, which Mail on Sunday described as “sensational,” was “sprayed like a new public revelation” rather than focusing on Thomas Markle’s reaction to negative media reports about him.
A twist in the appeal was that Meghan collaborated with authors of a book about her and Harry
In their appeal, the Associated Newspapers had also argued that Meghan published private information by collaborating with Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand, authors of To find freedom, a sympathetic book about her and Harry.
The Duchess’s lawyers had previously denied that she or Harry collaborated with the authors. But Knauf said as evidence to the court that he provided the authors with information and discussed it with Harry and Meghan.
Knauf’s evidence, which had not previously been revealed, was a dramatic twist in the long-running case.
In response, Meghan apologized for misleading the court about the extent of her collaboration with the book’s authors.
The Duchess said she did not recall the discussions with Knauf when she testified earlier in the case, saying she “had absolutely no desire or intention to mislead the defendant or the court.”
Media attacks were cited as Meghan and Harry left royal posts
Meghan, a former star of the American television legal drama Suit, married Harry, a granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth II, at Windsor Castle in May 2018.
Meghan and Harry announced in early 2020 that they were leaving royal duties and moving to North America, citing what they said were the unbearable intrusions and racist attitudes of the British media. They have settled in Santa Barbara, California, with their two young children.
In her statement Thursday, Meghan said she had been subjected to “deception, intimidation and calculated attacks” in the three years since the trial began.
“The longer they dragged it out, the more they could distort facts and manipulate the public (even during the appeal itself), making a straightforward case extraordinarily complicated to generate more headlines and sell more newspapers – a model that rewards chaos over truth, ” she said.
The Associated Newspapers had argued that the case should go to a lawsuit over Meghan’s claim against the publisher.
The Associated Newspapers said in a statement Thursday that they believed “the verdict should only be handed down on the basis of evidence tested during the trial,” especially since “Mr. Knauf’s evidence raises questions about the Duchess’ credibility.”
It is possible to appeal the latest decision
Lawyer Mark Stephens, who specializes in media law and is not involved in the case, said he thought the publisher would appeal, although it would be unusual for the UK Supreme Court to take such a case. He said the publisher could also try to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.
“There is a question of principle here, which is whether this case should be concluded before a trial without disclosure, without testing the evidence,” Stephens said. The decision did not settle the question of whether the letter to Thomas Markle “was always intended for Meghan’s site to publish and leak and use as briefing material,” he added.
The Associated Newspapers “are entitled to this lawsuit and I think it will just prolong the pain for Meghan Markle,” Stephens said.