Duchess of Sussex v. Associated Newspapers court case update

Hi there, and sorry for not posting more quickly. Things have been very busy in non-royal land. Let’s discuss the latest updates in Meghan’s case against Associated Newspapers.

If you need a quick primer on the court case to which I’m referring, you can go here. Essentially, Meghan wrote a letter to her father and certified Bad Man, Thomas Markle. It begged him to stop using her marriage to Harry to make money, and to treat her with the care and respect of a father to a daughter and not a man to an ATM machine (which is valid). Thomas Markle sold the five-page letter to the Daily Mail, and the Daily Mail published large chunks of it. Meghan is suing the Daily Mail for breach of privacy and copyright infringement for having published the letter.

Associated Newspapers, which owns the Daily Mail, is defending itself by saying that 1) the letter wasn’t private because Meghan’s friends discussed it in an on the record interview with People Magazine; 2) Staff at Buckingham Palace helped draft the letter, so Meghan a) planned for it to be made public in some form all along and b) she alone does not hold the copyright on it; and 3) Thomas Markle owns the letter, it was given to him by Meghan, so he can do with it as he wishes. Now you’re caught up.

Meghan does not want to take this case to a full trial, where there will be witness testimony and fanfare and she will have to travel to London for the duration of the trial. It would be a Mess with a capital M, and it would open Meghan up to scrutiny on more than just the letter to her father. So, while the trial is currently scheduled for October of this year, Meghan’s lawyers have asked the judge, Justice Warby, to rule in her favour in what is called a summary judgement. The hearing for the summary judgement took place this past Tuesday and Wednesday.

Meghan’s lawyers argued via a video link that this is an open and shut case of infringed privacy and copyright violation, so much so that Justice Warby should rule in Meghan’s favour and order Associated Newspapers to pay damages to her right now. Associated Newspapers argued that, for the following reasons, the case is much more complicated than Meghan’s lawyers are making it out to be, and the following issues need to go to a full trial in order to be resolved:

What about Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand’s book, Finding Freedom?

At the beginning of the court proceedings for this case, both Meghan and Scobie and Durand strenuously denied cooperation with or approval from the Sussexes on the details of their biography, Finding Freedom. It has since come out from both parties that the Sussexes did, in fact, cooperate with the authors on the book, though usually through close friends and Kensington Palace staff. This leads to a credibility crisis for both Meghan and Scobie and Durand. Associated Newspapers is arguing that the only way to get to the bottom of it is to go to a full trial with witness statements from Scobie and possibly Durand.

The five friends in the People Magazine article

A big part of Associated Newspapers’ defense for publishing the letter lies in Meghan’s friends having discussed the contents of the letter on the record with People Magazine in late 2018/early 2019. If the letter was private, as Meghan claims it was, then why did her friends feel they were able to discuss it with a newspaper that they knew would be seen all over the world? And wouldn’t said friends, people who claimed to be Meghan’s best friends, would have gotten approval from Meghan on what they could and could not discuss with People before they spoke to the magazine? It’s likely that they did seek approval from Meghan. Going to a trial would allow witness statements on how involved Meghan was with the People article and whether she allowed or even asked her friends to speak about the letter to gain sympathy from the public. This would be a total disaster for Meghan, as she does not want to get into these details. Plus, she wants to keep her five friends mentioned in the People article anonymous (although I’m pretty sure I figured out who the five friends are already, with my mad Google and social media stalking skills.)

The royal staff who helped draft the letter

One of the biggest surprises that has come out of this court case is the fact that Buckingham/Kensington Palace staff helped Meghan draft the letter to her father. Up to four members of royal household staff knew that Meghan was drafting a letter to send to her father, and provided advice and comments on how to improve it electronically before Meghan wrote it out in her calligraphy and sent it via FedEx to her father in Mexico. If Meghan truly thought that this letter was private, why did she have paid royal communications staff look at it and help revise it? A trial would allow the royal staff in question to answer these questions on the record.

The arguments from both sides were heard this week – from Meghan’s team on why the case should be decided in her favour now, and from Associated Newspapers’ team on why a full trial must move forward in October. Justice Warby took the issues laid out by each party and said that he would provide an answer on whether this case would be settled in Meghan’s favour now or move to a full trial in October, sometime in the next two weeks. Obviously, I will let you know when that happens. I can’t wait to read the decision no matter which way it goes. I, for one, think that the case has to go to a full trial because there are so many questions in the air about who knew about the letter and when. Then again, I’m not a lawyer.

I will leave you with the funniest moment that came out of this week’s summary judgement hearing: the following dry response from Justice Warby on if he had enjoyed Finding Freedom:

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