01 May 2020
London: Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, on Friday lost the opening round of her legal battle against Associated Newspapers, the publishers of the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, for publishing a confidential letter to her estranged father last year, with the High Court judge dismissing major parts of her suit, reports said.
The former American actress, who is married to Prince Harry, was seeking damages from Associated Newspapers Ltd for alleged misuse of private information, copyright infringement and breach of the Data Protection Act.
However, the judge dismissed as "irrelevant" most of her case, including her claims that the reports were part of a media "agenda" against her.
Justice Warby also "struck out" her allegations that journalists had acted dishonestly and had caused the rift between her and her estranged father Thomas by "digging up dirt" to portray Meghan in a "negative light".
The article had reproduced parts of a handwritten note she sent to her father in August 2018, three months after he was unable to walk her down the aisle following a heart attack, and was made public by him in February 2019.
A preliminary hearing in the case, in which lawyers for Associated Newspapers asked for parts of the Duchess's case to be struck out, was conducted remotely last week.
During the hearing, the judge was told the letter had been published by Associated Newspapers to satisfy the "curiosity" of readers, which it had "deliberately generated", according to British media reports.
Lawyers representing Meghan said the publisher had, through the articles, "stirred up" the dispute between her and her father, with David Sherborne contending that the publisher had "harassed" the elder Markle, and "finally manipulated this vulnerable man into giving interviews", which he had later described as "lies".
But counsel for the publisher argued allegations by Meghan that the articles were responsible for "causing" the dispute between them are "objectionable" with Antony White arguing that Meghan's contention that her "vulnerable" father was "harassed and humiliated", "manipulated" and "exploited" should not form part of her case.
Delivered his ruling on Friday, Justice Warby favoured the newspaper publisher.
"Some of the allegations are struck out as irrelevant to the purpose for which they are pleaded.
"Some are struck out on the further or alternative ground that they are inadequately detailed.
"I have also acted so as to confine the case to what is reasonably necessary and proportionate for the purpose of doing justice between these parties.
"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."
Justice Warby, however, said: "Some aspects of the case that I have struck out at this stage may be revived if they are put in proper form."
In a statement issued after the ruling, a spokesperson for law firm Schillings, which is representing Meghan, said: "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,"
The statement also said: "Whilst the judge recognises that there is a claim for breach of privacy and copyright, we are surprised to see that his ruling suggests that dishonest behaviour is not relevant."
According to the Mail, the Associated Newspapers will also ask the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to pay their costs of in excess of 50,000 pounds after the couple refused their offer to deal with the issue out of court to save the High Court having to set up an online hearing during the coronavirus crisis.
Prince Harry and Meghan, who have relinquished their royal duties, are currently living in Los Angeles.