After last week’s hearing, a judge has today struck out Duchess Meghan’s allegations that the Mail on Sunday acted “dishonestly” by not printing certain sections of her letter to father Thomas Markle.
But despite the initial blow, lawyers for the Duchess of Sussex insist that her “strong” claims of copyright infringement, misuse of private information, and breach of data protection against the publisher of the British tabloid will “continue.”
In a May 1 statement sent to media organizations including BAZAAR.com, a spokesperson for Schillings, who are acting on behalf of the duchess, says, “Today’s ruling makes very clear that the core elements of this case do not change and will continue to move forward. The Duchess’ rights were violated; the legal boundaries around privacy were crossed. As part of this process, the extremes to which The Mail on Sunday used distortive, manipulative, and dishonest tactics to target The Duchess of Sussex have been put on full display.”
During April’s “strike out” hearing, lawyers for Associated Newspapers, the Mail‘s publisher, argued against elements of Meghan’s claim, which included accusations that certain parts from the August 2018 letter Thomas had been “dishonestly” removed to tell a misleading version of the story.
In his ruling today, the judge, Mr. Justice Warby, struck out the allegation and added that the court will also not be required to determine whether the paper deliberately “stirred up” conflict between the duchess and her father, or whether they pursued an “agenda” of publishing offensive or intrusive articles about Meghan. He added that the allegations would not form a part of Meghan’s case “at this stage,” because the information is “irrelevant” to her three claims.
Warby added, “I do not consider that the allegations struck out on that basis go to the ‘heart’ of the case, which at its core concerns the publication of five articles disclosing the words of, and information drawn from, the letter written by the claimant to her father in August 2018.”
The tabloid—which is now asking for the Sussexes to pay costs in excess of $62,000 to cover last month’s online hearing—continues to deny the main three claims being made by the duchess’s legal team, who now have the option to amend their case and resubmit.
The Schillings spokesperson continued, “We are surprised to see that his ruling suggests that dishonest behaviour is not relevant. We feel honesty and integrity are at the core of what matters; or as it relates to the Mail on Sunday and Associated Newspapers, their lack thereof. Nonetheless, we respect the Judge’s decision as the strong case against Associated will continue to focus on the issue of a private, intimate and hand-written letter from a daughter to her father that was published by The Mail on Sunday. This gross violation of any person’s right to privacy is obvious and unlawful, and The Mail on Sunday should be held to account for their actions.”
Antony White QC (Queen’s Counsel), for Associated Newspapers, said at last Friday’s hearing that they found it “curious” that the Mail on Sunday is being accused of manipulating Thomas when Meghan hasn’t spoken to him since she married Prince Harry. “The claimant [Meghan] has seen fit to put these allegations on the record without having spoken to Mr Markle, verifying these allegations with him or obtaining his consent,” he said. “It is therefore highly unlikely that she has any credible basis for these allegations of impropriety towards him.”
Warby reiterated at today’s ruling that none of the elements struck out are required in order for the duchess to win her claim and that he recognizes the case is very similar to Prince Charles’s 2006 successful case against Associated Newspapers, who published extracts from his private diaries without permission.
Despite today’s ruling, the road to trial is still long. A further procedural hearing will soon be set to deal with the next steps, and the legal process ahead is still expected to take some months.
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