Meghan, Duchess of Sussex wins legal challenge against Mail on Sunday over letter to father

·5-min read
The Duchess of Sussex - Caitlin Ochs/Reuters
The Duchess of Sussex - Caitlin Ochs/Reuters

The Duchess of Sussex has won her Court of Appeal case against the Mail on Sunday, as judges rule her "unfortunate lapse of memory" over briefing her biographers should not change the outcome.

The Duchess, who has hailed her victory as being "not just for me, but for anyone who has ever felt scared to stand up for what’s right", has won the support of appeal judges, who found the case over her handwritten letter to her father should not be heard at full trial.

She had already been granted a summary judgement in her favour, after she sued the newspaper publisher for a breach of her privacy, data protection and copyright.

Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL) had appealed the High Court decision, presenting new evidence in the form of emails and text messages which showed the Duchess had written the letter "with the understanding that it could be leaked" and had authorised her staff to brief the authors of Finding Freedom.

Lawyers representing the publisher said Mr Markle had wished to counter points made by friends of his daughter, who had given an interview to People magazine in the US.

But, in a ruling on Thursday, Sir Geoffrey Vos, Dame Victoria Sharp and Lord Justice Bean dismissed the publisher's appeal and said the new evidence presented by the newspaper publisher was "of little assistance" to the case.

'It was not necessary to deploy half the contents of the letter'

Upholding Lord Justice Warby's previous summary judgement, they said: "It was hard to see what evidence could have been adduced at trial that would have altered the situation.

“The judge had been in as good a position as any trial judge to look at the article in People magazine, the Letter and the Mail on Sunday articles to decide if publication of the contents of the Letter was appropriate to rebut the allegations made against Mr Markle.

“The judge had correctly decided that, whilst it might have been proportionate to publish a very small part of the Letter for that purpose, it was not necessary to publish half the contents of the Letter as Associated Newspapers had done.

Sir Geoffrey Vos, Master of the Rolls, said: “Essentially, whilst it might have been proportionate to disclose and publish a very small part of the Letter to rebut inaccuracies in the People Article, it was not necessary to deploy half the contents of the Letter as Associated Newspapers did.”

In a written judgment, he noted the evidence from Mr Knauf “disclosing that he had provided some information” to the authors of the Finding Freedom biography with the Duchess’s knowledge.

Saying she had “apologised to the court for the fact that she had not remembered the relevant exchanges at the time”, he found: “This was, at best, an unfortunate lapse of memory on her part, but it does not seem to me to bear on the issues raised in the grounds of appeal, and it has been given no prominence in Associated Newspapers’ oral argument.”

'Victory for anyone who has ever felt scared'

The Duchess hailed her “victory” in a statement, telling the public she had been fighting for them too.

“This is a victory not just for me, but for anyone who has ever felt scared to stand up for what’s right,” she said.

“While this win is precedent setting, what matters most is that we are now collectively brave enough to reshape a tabloid industry that conditions people to be cruel, and profits from the lies and pain that they create.

“From day one, I have treated this lawsuit as an important measure of right versus wrong.

“The defendant has treated it as a game with no rules. The longer they dragged it out, the more they could twist facts and manipulate the public (even during the appeal itself), making a straightforward case extraordinarily convoluted in order to generate more headlines and sell more newspapers—a model that rewards chaos above truth.”

She added she had been “patient in the face of deception, intimidation, and calculated attacks” over the three years since she brought the case, saying the newspaper had “broken the law”.

“The courts have held the defendant to account, and my hope is that we all begin to do the same,” she said. “Because as far removed as it may seem from your personal life, it’s not. Tomorrow it could be you.”

In an apparent attempt at wordplay on the title of the Mail on Sunday’s sister newspaper the Daily Mail, she added: “These harmful practices don’t happen once in a blue moon—they are a daily fail that divide us, and we all deserve better.”

Commenting on the case, Matthew Dando, Partner at Wiggin LLP: “This is a troubling judgment which has very concerning consequences for freedom of expression.

“This decision heightens concerns that privacy laws permit public figures selectively to determine what can be reported about them and manipulate the media narrative.

“It also sets a dangerous precedent that anyone arguing against that status quo may not even be entitled properly to test the claimant’s evidence in court.”

'We are very disappointed by the Court of Appeal decision'

A spokesman for ANL said it was considering appealing to the Supreme Court, believing that the case merits a trial.

“We are very disappointed by the decision of the Court of Appeal,” the publisher said in a statement.

“It is our strong view that judgment should be given only on the basis of evidence tested at trial, and not on a summary basis in a heavily contested case, before even disclosure of documents.

“No evidence has been tested in cross-examination, as it should be, especially when Mr Knauf's evidence raises issues as to the Duchess's credibility.

“After People magazine published an attack on Mr Markle, based on false briefings from the Duchess's friends wrongly describing the letter as a loving letter, it was important to show that the letter was no such thing.

“Both the letter and People magazine also seriously misrepresented the reasons for Mr Markle's non-attendance at the royal wedding.

“The articles corrected these matters, and raised other issues of public interest including the reasons for the breakdown in the relationship between the Duchess and her father.

“We are considering an appeal to the Supreme Court in the United Kingdom.”

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