Meghan Markle thanks Prince Harry and her 'mom' as she wins High Court bid to avoid full trial against Mail on Sunday

·Royal Correspondent
·6-min read
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - SEPTEMBER 23: Meghan, Duchess of Sussex visits the District 6 Museum and Homecoming Centre during their royal tour of South Africa on September 23, 2019 in Cape Town, South Africa. District 6 was a former inner-city residential area where different communities and races lived side by side, until 1966 when the Apartheid government declared the area whites-only and 60,000 residents were forcibly removed and relocated.  (Photo by Samir Hussein/WireImage)

Meghan, here during the royal tour of South Africa in 2019, received the judgment on the latest bid on Thursday. (WireImage)

The Duchess of Sussex has thanked her husband and her mother as she won a key part of her bid to keep her court case against the Mail On Sunday from going to full trial.

A judge on Thursday agreed with Meghan Markle's legal team that it was "unlawful" for the newspaper to publish parts of the letter she wrote to her father, Thomas Markle Snr, after her wedding to Prince Harry.

However the judge was persuaded that some of the case needs to be heard at trial, which could mean the Duchess of Sussex has to give some evidence in person.

In a statement, the Duchess of Sussex said: "After two long years of pursuing litigation, I am grateful to the courts for holding Associated Newspapers and The Mail on Sunday to account for their illegal and dehumanising practices.

"For these outlets, it’s a game. For me and so many others, it’s real life, real relationships, and very real sadness. The damage they have done and continue to do runs deep.

"The world needs reliable, fact-checked, high-quality news. What The Mail on Sunday and its partner publications do is the opposite."

She said "we all lose when misinformation sells", but added "for today, we have all won".

"I share this victory with each of you – because we all deserve justice and truth, and we all deserve better.

"I particularly want to thank my husband, mom, and legal team, and especially Jenny Afia for her unrelenting support throughout this process," she said.

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 20: Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Doria Ragland listen to Meghan, Duchess of Sussex speaking at an event to mark the launch of a cookbook with recipes from a group of women affected by the Grenfell Tower fire at Kensington Palace on September 20, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Ben Stansall - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Harry and Doria Ragland, here in September 2018 in London, got a special thank you from Meghan. (WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Meghan, 39, took legal action against the publishers of the Mail On Sunday and the MailOnline, Associated Newspapers Ltd (ANL), after the two news outlets printed extracts of a letter she wrote to her father, Markle Snr, in the summer of 2018.

She said the decision to publish the letter breached her privacy and copyright, but ANL promised to fight the claims.

Mr Justice Warby agreed on Thursday that there was no need for a full trial on the issue of privacy because no other decision would have been reached had one been held.

He concluded: "The claimant had a reasonable expectation that the contents of the letter would remain private. The Mail articles interfered with that reasonable expectation."

Mr Justice Warby added: "The only tenable justification for any such interference was to correct some inaccuracies about the letter contained in the People article. On an objective review of the articles in the light of the surrounding circumstances, the inescapable conclusion is that, save to a very limited extent, the disclosures made were not a necessary or proportionate means of serving that purpose.

"For the most part they did not serve that purpose at all. Taken as a whole the disclosures were manifestly excessive and hence unlawful. There is no prospect that a different judgment would be reached after a trial."

Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex(L) arrives at the British High Commissioner residency in Johannesburg where she  will meet with Graca Machel, widow of former South African president Nelson Mandela, in Johannesburg, on October 2, 2019. - Prince Harry recalled the hounding of his late mother Diana to denounce media treatment of his wife Meghan Markle, as the couple launched legal action against a British tabloid for invasion of privacy. (Photo by Michele Spatari / AFP) (Photo by MICHELE SPATARI/AFP via Getty Images)

The legal action was announced after the Duchess of Sussex's royal tour in South Africa. (AFP)

Read more: Meghan Markle's sister reveals story behind controversial paparazzi shots of their father

He added: "It was, in short, a personal and private letter. The majority of what was published was about the claimant’s own behaviour, her feelings of anguish about her father’s behaviour – as she saw it – and the resulting rift between them.

“These are inherently private and personal matters.”

He also agreed that printing the letter breached copyright.

However, the judge has been persuaded that issues of joint copyright need to be heard at trial. The court heard previously that Meghan had received help in matters relating to the letter, in part from royal aides like Jason Knauf who was part of the Kensington Palace communications team.

The judge said that means the letter "may have generated a copyright that does not belong exclusively to the claimant and may be Crown copyright".

He said: "These issues must go forward to a trial."

A spokesperson for ANL said: “We are very surprised by today’s summary judgment and disappointed at being denied the chance to have all the evidence heard and tested in open court at a full trial.

“We are carefully considering the judgment’s contents and will decide in due course whether to lodge an appeal.”

Libel and privacy lawyer Amber Melville-Brown from Withers Worldwide, told Yahoo UK: "This is not a complete slam dunk of a win, and Meghan is left with the sword of Damocles of a court appearance hanging over her head, the one thing no doubt, that she was hoping to avoid by bringing these applications. 

"She will still face the pain of an uncomfortable appearance in court if the defendants are keen to investigate why, if her letter was intended to be private, she sought the assistance of advisers on its content."

ANL relied on some hearsay evidence, as well as an admission from Meghan that Knauf discussed the letter with her, and a solicitors' letter sent on behalf of the royal aides, to make their claim that there could be more than one copyright holder.

The letter to her father, which detailed her heartbreak as he spoke to the press about their relationship, had been sent to Markle Snr in the months after her wedding to Prince Harry.

Markle Snr had missed the wedding, suffering a heart attack in the days before he was due to fly to the UK.

The Mail On Sunday printed the letter she wrote him, after the existence of the letter was mentioned by Meghan's friends in an interview they did with People magazine.

The couple hosted and moderated talks with people who are working in the digital space. (TIME)

Meghan and Harry now live in the US. (TIME)

Read more: Why is Meghan Markle suing the Mail on Sunday?

Markle Snr said he wanted to share the letter because he felt the contents were misrepresented. Meghan said she did not know her friends were planning to conduct the People interview.

Meghan's legal team announced the action in October 2019, with the case going to the courtroom on several occasions since then.

In this most recent hearing, the duchess's legal team have sought to have the decision made by summary judgment, meaning there won't be a full trial with witnesses.

Meghan's team argued ANL has "no prospect" of defending themselves against her claim of misuse of private information and alleged breach of copyright.

But ANL argued that the duchess wrote the letter "with a view to it being disclosed publicly at some future point", which she denies.

They had said there was "uncertainty as to a number of significant factual matters which can, and should, be investigated at trial when the court will have the full picture in terms of disclosure and evidence".

A full trial would have involved calling witnesses like Markle Snr, and the five friends who spoke to People, as well as Meghan herself.

The case was meant to be heard at trial earlier this year, but Justice Warby gave permission for a delay on confidential grounds.

The new date offered was autumn 2021. However, the parties will next meet on 2 March to decide the next steps.

Watch: Why is Meghan Markle suing the Mail On Sunday?

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