Meghan Markle celebrates legal victory against British paper: 'You cannot take somebody’s privacy and exploit it'

·Royal Corespondent
·5-min read

Meghan Markle has thanked her husband and her mother as she won a key part of her bid to keep her court case against British newspaper Mail On Sunday from going to full trial.

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, Meghan 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 dehumanizing practices. These tactics (and those of their sister publications MailOnline and the Daily Mail) are not new; in fact, they’ve been going on for far too long without consequence. 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. We all lose when misinformation sells more than truth, when moral exploitation sells more than decency and when companies create their business model to profit from people’s pain. But for today, with this comprehensive win on both privacy and copyright, we have all won. We now know, and hope it creates legal precedent, that you cannot take somebody’s privacy and exploit it in a privacy case, as the defendant has blatantly done over the past two years.

"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."

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. (Photo: Ben Stansall - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

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

Justice Warby agreed on Thursday that there was no need for a full trial 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."

He 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. (Photo: Michele Spatari/AFP)

He also agreed that printing the letter breached her copyright.

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

“These are inherently private and personal matters.”

But, he 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."

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, detailing her heartbreak as he spoke to the press about their relationship, had been sent to Markle in the months after her wedding to Prince Harry.

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

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.

Markle 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 judgement, 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, 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 this fall. However, the parties will next meet on March 2 to decide the next steps.

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