Sunday, December 5

Trial Time: Admission and Apology Raise the Stake in Meghan’s Privacy Case | Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex

An eleven-hour speech, an admission of oblivion, and an apology in court; The potentially explosive developments in the Duchess of Sussex’s privacy case against the Mail on Sunday provided plenty of drama this week.

And it may be far from over. Associated Newspapers Ltd (ANL) wants the appeal court to overturn a judge’s ruling that Mail on Sunday and Mail Online violated the Duchess’s privacy by publishing excerpts from her letter to her 77-year-old father Thomas Markle, and that problems are addressed to test.

It’s a nightmare scenario that the royal couple would undoubtedly be eager to avoid.

“The price of a trial must be a more daunting prospect for the Duchess than it is for Associated Newspapers. A public trial for the Duchess would mean that she (and possibly Prince Harry) would almost certainly have to testify and be questioned about aspects of her private life, as did her father and friends, “said Persephone Bridgman Baker, senior associate. at the leading law firm Carter-Ruck.

“This is certainly one of the possibilities that is prompting Associated to defend the allegations so belligerently – the press coverage of any trial would be similar to what we saw in the recent Johnny Depp case.”

Meghan would have been warned of the risks by her legal team early on, she said. “Given the stakes and the costs that have already been spent to get to this stage of the proceeding, it seems inevitable that Associated will at least request permission to appeal to the supreme court in the event that the appellate court rules in favor of the duchess”.

Meghan won her privacy case in February when Lord Justice Warby ruled in high court that ANL’s publication was illegal in a summary judgment, which avoided the need for a trial, on the grounds that the publisher had no real prospect of success.

In the appeals court, ANL has challenged that ruling, arguing that the case should go to trial. They claim that Meghan had lost any automatic right to privacy over the letter, claiming that she collaborated in sharing details of her life with the authors of Sussex’s biography, Finding Freedom, and that she had written the five-page letter with the possibility that it was so. it seeped into the mind.

ANL argues that summary judgment prevented it from exploring these issues at trial.

Enter Jason Knauf, 39, a former “trusted advisor” to the Sussexes and their former communications chief. For a year he resisted attempts by the ANL to lure him and other former senior Sussex officials known as “Palace Four”, insisting on a position of “neutrality”.

Knauf, currently director of the royal foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, but due to retire in December, is the aide who brought the bullying allegations made by two staff members against the Duchess. The allegations, which she denies, came to light a month after the summary trial and a week before the couple’s interview with Oprah Winfrey.

Knauf’s witness statement in September 2021 before the appeals court was made after he told a “source” that he “regretted” not having previously provided a statement, based on evidence from Keith Mathieson, a lawyer representing ANL.

The evidence sparked emails and text messages showing Meghan told Knauf that she addressed her “Daddy” letter as “in the unfortunate event it leaked, it would tug at my heartstrings,” and “everything I’ve ever written it’s with the understanding that it could leak. ” ”.

Writing the letter, she said, “Honestly, Jason, I feel great. Cathartic and real and honest and factual. If you filter it, it’s on your conscience. [sic] But at least the world will know the truth Words that I could never express publicly. “In another, he wrote:” Trust me, I worked on every detail of the letter that could be manipulated. “

In text messages, published by the court, Meghan explained that she chose to write a letter to her estranged father to protect Prince Harry from the “constant reprimands” of the royal family to do something to prevent Thomas Markle from speaking to the press. A letter was better than an email or text message, as it “does not open the door to a conversation,” he texted Knauf.

Knauf also said he sent her briefing notes ahead of his meeting with the Finding Freedom authors, with details including his relationships with his half siblings. This appeared to contradict a November 17, 2020, statement by the Duchess’s attorneys that “the plaintiff [Meghan] does not know if, and to what extent, the communications team was involved in providing information for the book … “

In response, Meghan made a witness statement in which she apologized for not recalling those exchanges, emphasizing that she had “absolutely no desire or intention” to mislead, and felt the exchanges “strongly support” her case. The briefing notes were just “reminders” of the information Knauf already had, a “timeline” of his family for him to answer questions from the media. They were not “special or exclusive”, just “general factual background information” and “a far cry from highly detailed personal information,” ANL alleged that it “wanted or allowed” to be put into the public domain.

Elliot Fry, managing partner at Cripps Pemberton Greenish, said the fact that the case would simply result in the case going back to the lower court made the prospect of the appeal successful more likely. But, he said, the evidence that Meghan hoped her letter would leak did not lose her privacy rights. “That doesn’t mean you want that letter to leak or that you don’t have a reasonable expectation that it won’t.”

Howard Kennedy’s partner Mark Stephens said he believed there was a 60-65% chance that the appellate court would say “there is more to this than meets the eye and it should go to trial so the judge can do careful evaluation. ” of the evidence to conclude where the truth is. “

But Sailesh Mehta, a human rights attorney, said revelations about Meghan’s reports to the perpetrators or an unauthorized biography through her assistant would likely be viewed as a “sideshow” by appeals court judges. “In the last 40 years, the pendulum has swung sometimes in favor of the press and other times in favor of individuals. The current situation is that he is on the side of the right to privacy and it is unlikely that he will turn in favor of the press in this case.

The court of appeal will announce its ruling at a later date.

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