The Duchess of Sussex’s High Court legal battle against the publishers of the Mail on Sunday has been delayed until autumn next year on secret grounds.
Lawyers for Meghan, 39, argued in a private hearing that the trial should not happen in January, seeking a lengthy adjournment from Mr Justice Warby.
Speaking in open court this morning, the judge said he has agreed to the delay and ordered that the ten-day trial would now be heard nine months later in October or November 2021.
“The basis for the application is a confidential ground, the merits of which were expanded on in the course of a private hearing before at 10am this morning”, he explained, saying he agreed to the “exceptional” behind-closed-doors hearing to avoid damaging the confidential nature of the information.
He said the Mail on Sunday’s publishers, Associated Newspapers Ltd (ANL), had not objected to a delay after seeing the Duchess’ argument and evidence supporting the request.
“I have considered with care the evidence and argument advanced by the claimant and evidence and critical analysis submitted on behalf of the defendant”, the judge said.
“I have concluded the right decision in all the circumstances is to grant the application to adjourn.
“That means the trial date of January 11, 2021 will be vacated and a trial will be fixed for a new date in the autumn.”
Meghan has been told to pay £30,000 towards the costs of bringing today’s adjournment application.
The court heard Thomas Markle had been consulted on the prospect of a delay but has not been told what the reason was for an adjournment being sought.
“Thomas Markle is an elderly and sick man”, ANL’s barrister Antony White QC wrote in a written submission.
“He wants and intends to give evidence at the trial.”
He said the court has been told of “his reaction to the idea of an adjournment”, adding: “None of the confidential information was disclosed to him.”
The legal battle centres on articles in the Mail on Sunday and MailOnline which featured the contents of a letter sent by the Duchess to her estranged father, Thomas Markle, in August 2018.
Extracts of the handwritten note were first reproduced under the headline: "Revealed: The letter showing true tragedy of Meghan’s rift with a father she says has 'broken her heart into a million pieces'."
She claims the newspaper group breached her privacy and misused personal data, bringing a High Court claim for damages which the media organisation is fighting bitterly.
Last month ANL won a victory by being allowed to use a biography of Meghan and husband Prince Harry, Finding Freedom, as part of its case at trial, suggesting the Duchess may have been a source of the book.
Today, her lawyers launched an appeal against that decision, asking for it to be heard alongside a bid to end the case without a trial. Meghan claims ANL has no valid defence to the privacy claim and is seeking summary judgment in her favour.
ANL wholly denies the allegations of breach of privacy and misuse of personal data, particularly the Duchess's claim that the letter was edited in any way that changed its meaning, and says it will hotly contest the case.
Mr Justice Warby directed that Meghan’s bid for summary judgment will be heard on January 12 and 13 next year. He rejected her bid to appeal against the Finding Freedom decision.
Another judge will conduct a costs and case management hearing on the legal fight this afternoon.