The Duchess of Sussex is suing publishers Associated Newspapers and the Mail on Sunday for publishing extracts of what she describes as a “private and confidential” letter sent to her father

By Phil Boucher and Simon Perry
April 24, 2020 11:07 AM
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Prince Harry and Meghan Markle
Rosa Woods/Getty

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry listened in from Los Angeles as the Duchess of Sussex's court case against the Mail on Sunday opened in London on Friday. The pre-trial hearing was heard remotely before a virtual court hearing in London via video link amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Meghan, 38, is suing publishers Associated Newspapers and the Mail on Sunday for publishing extracts of what she describes as a “private and confidential” letter sent to her father, Thomas Markle, in August 2018 — three months after her wedding to Prince Harry.

Friday’s hearing is a procedural application from the Mail on Sunday, which is asking the judge, Justice Warby, to reject parts of her case. It is being held in extraordinary circumstances due to the current social distancing rules. The two senior lawyers are making their submissions via video links, while journalists are able to watch remotely. Antony White QC is acting for the Mail on Sunday and David Sherborne is working on behalf of the Duchess of Sussex. No date has been set yet for the main trial.

Meghan and Harry were up very early to hear the pre-trial from L.A. — where they moved last month with their son Archie — as her lawyer David Sherborne made his case.

Sherbourne told the court, “The starting point is that . . . here today we are only dealing with objections to the claim for misuse of private information.” It is “quintessentially a privacy action,” he added, saying the paper chose to “disclose to the whole world the contents of a private letter written by a daughter to her father.” He also said of Meghan and her father, "[There was] a relationship which was particularly warm before all of this.”

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry
Samir Hussein/WireImage

The paper is urging the court to strike out various elements, including a claim by Meghan that the letter was edited to portray her in a bad light; that a feature by a handwriting expert employed by the newspaper was done with “malicious intent;” and that the Mail on Sunday didn’t print parts of the letter because it would have undermined its negative narrative of the duchess over her treatment of her estranged father.

The newspaper says that the duchess’s team doesn’t have enough proof of dishonesty – mainly because it’s a state of mind. They are trying to get claims of dishonesty and malicious intent struck out as they “are not relevant and not properly pleaded. It is clear that they should be pruned from the claimant’s case,” says White.

Part of what the judge will be asked to throw out is the inclusion by Meghan’s legal team of stories about her and her background, such as news accounts reporting that she was said to be “difficult” and that her mother lived close to “gang-scarred” Compton, in L.A.

Refuting allegations that the Mail on Sunday was “deliberately seeking to dig or set up issues between the claimant and her father,” as White put it, he went on to say: “An allegation of an improper or ulterior motive” can only be proved by “a complex test of the state of the mind of the publisher.”

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle

The Mail on Sunday has said that it only approached Thomas Markle after the existence of the letter appeared in a story in PEOPLE magazine in February 2019. “The claimant didn’t know about the interview,” Sherborne said of Meghan. 

He went on to say that the newspaper “chose to deliberately omit or suppress parts of the letter in a highly misleading and dishonest manner, including even cutting out words in the middle of a sentence or whole sentences out of a paragraph.” It omitted “almost half the actual contents of the letter.”

Her team will also argue that Meghan and Harry repeatedly called and texted her father in the lead up to the wedding, but he refused to respond — contrary to the impression given in a series of articles.

After Friday’s hearing, the judge will reserve his judgment to another date. There are many steps that will take place before the case eventually comes to court. Meghan has also made it clear that any damages awarded that are over and above legal costs will be donated to an anti-bullying charity.

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The pre-trial hearing comes after Meghan and Harry’s announcement on March 19 that they and their representatives will not deal with four U.K. outlets, announcing “there will be no corroboration and zero engagement” in a letter to the editors on April 19.

The Duke and Duchess say they fundamentally disagree with the “style of reporting” of four tabloids —The Sun, The Daily Mail, The Mirror and The Express — which they say have “pulled apart” the lives of many individuals.