Meghan Markle loses first ruling in High Court case against Mail On Sunday

Meghan Markle has lost the first ruling in her case against the Mail On Sunday.

Meghan’s lawyers appeared in court virtually last Friday as Associated Newspapers Ltd (ANL) argued parts of her case against them should be struck out.

In a ruling handed down on 1 May, the judge agreed with ANL, meaning parts of Meghan’s argument will not be heard in a future trial.

The Duchess of Sussex is suing ANL, the publishers of the Mail On Sunday and MailOnline, over their decision to publish extracts of a letter she wrote to her father in the months after her wedding to Prince Harry.

The 38-year-old argues the letter was private, but ANL says it was not obviously confidential.

ANL said parts of her case were “irrelevant” to the issues she was suing over - breach of privacy and copyright.

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

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 09: Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex attend the Commonwealth Day Service 2020 at Westminster Abbey on March 09, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage)
Harry is supporting Meghan in the court action. (WireImage)

In the ruling, Mr Justice Warby said the parts of Meghan’s case which should be struck out include allegations “the defendant acted dishonestly, and in bad faith”, and “deliberately dug up or stirred up conflict between the claimant and her father”.

Claims she was distressed by an “obvious agenda of publishing intrusive or offensive stories about [her] intended to portray her in a false and damaging light” are also struck out.

Mr Justice Warby said the argument presented by the duchess’s team of dishonesty was “not essential” to her case of breach of copyright, and that it was “inadequately pleaded”.

The judge said Meghan’s argument that ANL had stirred up a dispute between her and her father was “impermissibly vague”.

In their argument, Meghan’s team, from Schillings law firm, had listed nine other articles which they said showed there was an “agenda” against the duchess, to portray her in a negative light.

But they won’t be able to present these at the trial after the judge struck those out too.

In the ruling, he explained: “Much more detail would be required to enable the pleaded claims to be fully understood and dealt with.”

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - SEPTEMBER 23: Meghan, Duchess of Sussex makes a speech as she visits a Justice Desk initiative in Nyanga township, with Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, during their royal tour of South Africa on September 23, 2019 in Cape Town, South Africa. The Justice Desk initiative teaches children about their rights and provides self-defence classes and female empowerment training to young girls in the community. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
The duchess is being represented by law firm Schillings. (Getty Images)

Mr Justice Warby added: “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.”

In a statement issued after the ruling, a spokesman 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 continued: “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.

“We feel honesty and integrity are at the core of what matters; or as it relates to the Mail on Sunday and Associated Newspapers, their lack thereof.

“Nonetheless, we respect the judge’s decision as the strong case against Associated will continue to focus on the issue of a private, intimate and hand-written letter from a daughter to her father that was published by The Mail on Sunday.

“This gross violation of any person’s right to privacy is obvious and unlawful, and The Mail on Sunday should be held to account for their actions.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28:  David Sherborne, a lawyer representing several celebrities who have given evidence to The Leveson Inquiry, arrives at The Royal Courts of Justice on November 28, 2011 in London, England. The inquiry is being lead by Lord Justice Leveson and is looking into the culture, practice and ethics of the press in the United Kingdom. The inquiry, which will take evidence from interested parties and may take a year or more to complete, comes in the wake of the phone hacking scandal that saw the closure of The News of The World newspaper.  (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
David Sherborne is the duchess's lawyer. (Getty Images)

Meghan’s team is not going to appeal the ruling - but ANL is seeking costs of about £50,000 for the High Court appearance.

In an article on MailOnline, they said: “Associated Newspapers will also ask the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to pay their costs of in excess of £50,000 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. Meghan's costs are said to have been £60,000-plus.”

Antony White, who represented ANL in the virtual court last week, said it was “objectionable” for the duchess to say the newspaper had stirred up a dispute between her and her father.

Meghan’s team, led by David Sherborne, says it was the newspaper who caused the rift by exposing paparazzo photos of Thomas Markle in Mexico as fake, and then used the rift to justify publishing the letter.

They also say Meghan’s father was vulnerable and was harassed by reporters. Her team’s evidence includes a section of a letter written by the 75-year-old to his daughter in which he calls one of the articles “lies and bulls***”.

In the strike out hearing, White said Meghan’s team was arguing a point of a “complex mental state” which is “irrelevant to the claim for misuse of private information”.

Read more: Meghan Markle's father was manipulated by journalists, duchess's lawyer claims in court battle

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - OCTOBER 02: Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex visit the British High Commissioner's residence to attend an afternoon Reception to celebrate the UK and South Africa’s important business and investment relationship, looking ahead to the Africa Investment Summit the UK will host in 2020.  This is part of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's royal tour to South Africa. on October 02, 2019 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Samir Hussein/WireImage)
Meghan launched legal action after the South Africa tour. (WireImage)

White also took issue with Meghan’s claim the paper “acted dishonestly”. Her team has used examples of other articles published by ANL which it says forms evidence of an agenda against the duchess.

Of the letter, White added: “It is extremely common for the media to summarise or edit documents when reporting current events, and that is not a basis for an allegation of dishonesty.

“It is open to the claimant to say, as she does, that the presentation of the letter was misleading – which is firmly denied – but there is no basis for her to allege that anyone working for the defendant was dishonest in the drafting and editing process.”

Read more: Eight times the Royal Family has sued the media

Meghan and Harry are believed to have dialled into the virtual hearing on Friday, which was held in front of Mr Justice Warby at the Royal Courts of Justice.

She has previously said she will donate any damages won to an anti-bullying charity.

Associated Newspapers wholly denies the allegations, particularly the claim that the letter was edited in any way that changed its meaning, and says it will hotly contest the case.

Read more: The 360: Were Harry and Meghan right to ban Britain's tabloids?

The duchess is suing over five articles, two which were published in the Mail On Sunday and three online. The main article headline was: “Revealed: The letter showing true tragedy of Meghan’s rift with a father she says has ‘broken her heart into a million pieces.”

The letter was written to her father in August 2018, after he missed their wedding in May 2018, claiming he had suffered a heart attack and could not fly.

He released the letter to the Mail On Sunday after it was referenced in a People magazine article, during an interview with five of Meghan’s friends.

Meghan denies sanctioning the interview with her friends or having any knowledge of it before it was released.

A date for trial has not yet been set.