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The publisher of the Mail on Sunday has lost a legal battle to overturn a High Court ruling that it breached the privacy of Meghan Markle by publishing parts of a letter she wrote to her estranged father.
The Duchess of Sussex sued Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL) over five articles that reproduced portions of a “personal and private” five-page handwritten letter sent to her father, Thomas Markle, in August 2018.
The High Court ruled earlier this year that ANL’s publication of the letter was unlawful, entering summary judgment for Meghan and avoiding the need for a trial.
ANL brought an appeal against that decision during a three-day hearing in November, arguing the case should go to trial.
Lawyers for the publisher claimed correspondence between Ms Markle and her then-communications secretary Jason Knauf suggested the letter was written with “the potential of public consumption in mind because the claimant appreciated Mr Markle might disclose it to the media”.
They also argued the publication of the letter was part of Mr Markle’s right to reply following a People magazine article that alleged he was “cruelly cold-shouldering” his daughter in the run-up to her royal wedding.
But three senior judges, Sir Geoffrey Vos, Dame Victoria Sharp and Lord Justice Bean, on Thursday dismissed ANL’s appeal – and the publisher is now considering a fresh appeal to the Supreme Court.
Reading a summary of the judges’ decision at the Court of Appeal, Sir Geoffrey, Master of Rolls, 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.”
In a statement after the ruling, Ms Markle said it was a “victory not just for me, but for anyone who has ever felt scared to stand up for what’s right”.
She added: “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.
“In the nearly three years since this began, I have been patient in the face of deception, intimidation and calculated attacks.
“Today, the courts ruled in my favour – again – cementing that The Mail on Sunday, owned by Lord Jonathan Rothermere, has broken the law.”
A spokesperson for Associated Newspapers said the publisher was “very disappointed” by the Court of Appeal’s decision.
“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,” they said in a statement.
“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.”