A free press is “one of the cornerstones of any democracy”, Downing Street has said after the Mail on Sunday lost an appeal in a privacy row with the Duchess of Sussex.
Meghan sued Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL), also the publisher of MailOnline, over five articles which reproduced parts of a “personal and private” letter to her father, Thomas Markle, 77, in August 2018.
The 40-year-old duchess won her case earlier this year when a High Court judge ruled in her favour without a full trial.
ANL brought an appeal against that decision and, at a three-day hearing in November, argued the case should go to a trial on Meghan’s claims against the publisher – including breach of privacy and copyright.
But the appeal was dismissed by Court of Appeal judges in a ruling on Thursday.
The publisher of the Mail on Sunday has said it is considering an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, No 10 said the Government will be examining the judgment “carefully”.
On Friday, a spokesman for Boris Johnson was asked whether he is concerned about the ruling.
He said: “I think you’ve heard the Prime Minister say before, a free press is one of the cornerstones of any democracy.
“This Government recognises the vital role that newspapers and the media play in holding people to account and shining a light on issues which matter to communities.”
The spokesman said he could not comment further on legal processes but that Downing Street will “study the implications of the judgment carefully”.
ANL’s lawyers had argued that new evidence from Jason Knauf, former communications secretary to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, suggested Meghan wrote the letter with the understanding that it could be leaked.
After the judgment was made public, Meghan accused ANL of treating the court case as a “game with no rules”.
The publisher hit back in a statement which said the evidence of Mr Knauf “raises issues as to the duchess’ credibility”.
The statement from ANL read: “We are very disappointed by the decision of the Court of Appeal.
“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.
“No evidence has been tested in cross-examination, as it should be, especially when Mr Knauf’s evidence raises issues as to the duchess’ credibility.
“After People magazine published an attack on Mr Markle, based on false briefings from the duchess’ 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.”
Meghan said in a statement after the ruling: “This is a victory not just for me, but for anyone who has ever felt scared to stand up for what’s right.
“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.”