Prince Harry’s libel claim against Mail on Sunday publisher back in court
Prince Harry has launched a bid for a central part of the Mail on Sunday publisher’s defence case in their libel dispute to be thrown out by the High Court.
The Duke of Sussex is suing Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL) over news articles about his legal challenge to the Home Office regarding his security arrangements.
The Prince was locked in a dispute with the government over whether he would receive security on visits to the UK after stepping down as working Royal, and if he could be permitted to foot the bill himself.
The newspaper group published a story in February 2022 under the headline: “Exclusive: How Prince Harry tried to keep his legal fight with the government over police bodyguards a secret… then – just minutes after the story broke – his PR machine tried to put a positive spin on the dispute”.
ANL is contesting Harry’s libel claim, arguing the article expressed an “honest opinion” and also that it did not cause “serious harm” to his reputation.
At a High Court hearing on Friday, Prince Harry’s barrister Justin Rushbrooke KC asked Mr Justice Nicklin to dismiss the ‘honest opinion’ defence.
“(This is) our application to strike out or summary judgment in respect of the substantive pleaded defence of honest opinion pleaded by the defendant to the libel claim”, said Mr Rushbrooke.
Accusing the media organisation of having a “glaring hole” in its defence, he said the legal dispute centres on reporting which “purported to reveal, in sensational terms, how information said to derive from documents recently filed by (Prince Harry) in judicial review proceedings that he had brought against the Home Office contradicted public statements he had previously made about his willingness to pay for police protection for himself and his family whilst in the UK.
“In these Articles, (ANL) claimed… that ‘the revelations are a crushing rebuttal to Harry’s initialpublic statement that implied he had alwaysbeen willing to foot the bill’.”
The libel battle is set to analyse a decision of the Executive Committee for the Protection of Royalty and Public Figures (Ravec), which falls under the remit of the Home Office, which ultimately made the decision on the Prince’s security.
Also under scrutiny will be a meeting between the late Queen, Prince Harry, King Charles, and Prince William at Sandringham, when the Duke says he first made the offer to personally pay for the cost of state security for him and his family on UK visits.
In today’s application, Prince Harry argues that ANL has “failed to defend” central facts in the case, and contends that the publisher needs to establish that the Duke did not offer to pay for security until after his legal battle with the Home Office had begun – something Mr Rushbrooke said was “fatally absent” from the defence case.
ANL is set to defend the reporting in the Mail on Sunday and MailOnline, arguing there are “clear triable issues” in the case.
Andrew Caldecott KC, for the publisher, accuse Prince Harry of “playing fast and loose” with an earlier determination by the judge.
“The application is without merit and should be dismissed”, he said, in written submissions.
He argued that an offer to pay for security, made to members of the Royal Family, is not the same as an offer being made to government, and Harry could justifiably be accused of misleading the public.
“The claimant (Harry) was responsible for a public statement which claimed he was willing to pay for police protection and the legal challenge was to the government’s refusal to do so”, he said.
“The Claimant never expressed his willingness to pay to government until after he had commenced the judicial review proceedings.
“The fact the claimant asked at a family meeting...whether he could contribute or pay is nothing to the point, unless that offer was communicated to government.
“It’s the government being sued, the government who makes the decision, and it is nothing to do with individual members of the Royal family whether or not the taxpayer pays.”
The libel battle had been temporarily paused last December to see if a settlement could be reached between the Duke and the publisher.
In his earlier ruling, Mr Justice Nicklin found the article was defamatory, saying a normal reader would understand from the article that Harry “was responsible for public statements, issued on his behalf, which claimed that he was willing to pay for police protection in the UK, and that his legal challenge was to the Government’s refusal to permit him to do so, whereas the true position, as revealed in documents filed in the legal proceedings, was that he had only made the offer to pay after the proceedings had commenced”.
Harry is bringing the separate proceedings against the Home Office after being told he would no longer be given the “same degree” of personal protective security when visiting from the US, despite offering to pay for it himself.
Last year the Duke was given the go-ahead for a full hearing in his challenge against a decision of the Executive Committee for the Protection of Royalty and Public Figures (Ravec), which falls under the remit of the Home Office.
No date has yet been set for that hearing.