Monday, 2 Aug 2021

Duchess of Sussex: Thomas Markle’s feelings ruled as ‘minor’ aspect of Meghan’s privacy case

Thomas Markle’s “views and feelings” over a letter sent to him by daughter Meghan are a “relatively minor” aspect of her case against a British newspaper, a High Court judge has said.

The 76-year-old had “quite rightly” not been told the confidential reason for his daughter’s successful bid to adjourn the trial to autumn next year, Mr Justice Warby claimed in a ruling published on Wednesday.

Meghan is suing Associated Newspapers Ltd (ANL), publisher of the Mail on Sunday and MailOnline, after they published parts of a letter that she wrote to her father in August 2018.

Mr Justice Warby agreed to adjourn the trial, which was due to start in January next year, until next autumn after hearing from lawyers for both parties in a private hearing.

He said the private hearing was necessary to protect “the confidentiality of the information relied on” by Meghan in her application to postpone the trial.

The newly published ruling concludes that Mr Markle’s “subjective thoughts and feelings do seem to be, on any objective view, a relatively minor aspect of the case overall”.

“It is not suggested that Mr Markle’s evidence on those topics is an essential component of the defence case,” it adds.

“More importantly… there is no suggestion that Mr Markle would not be available to give evidence later next year. There is, in particular, no medical evidence suggesting that a delay would make his availability less likely.”

Mr Justice Warby’s ruling continues: “The evidence before me included not only an account of Mr Markle’s situation and health but also an account of his views and feelings about a possible delay to the trial. But it was not suggested that his feelings on that matter should guide my decision.”

Mr Markle “has (quite rightly) not been told of the confidential basis for the adjournment application”, it adds.

The judge also noted that he “had wondered quite how important Mr Markle’s evidence really was to the defence case” after Associated Newspapers described him as an “important witness”.

He said it was “not immediately obvious” why he was “considered important”.

The lawyer for Associated Newspapers Ltd, Antony White QC, argued there were two reasons why Mr Markle’s evidence was important.

Firstly, because Meghan “had chosen to plead that a number of allegations in the articles, reflecting Mr Markle’s version of events, are false”.

And secondly, that Mr Markle’s right to freedom of expression under human rights laws “require consideration so that ‘his reasons for bringing the letter to the paper and seeking to have it published’ are of importance”.

The court is due to hear an application for summary judgment in January – a legal step which would see the case resolved without a trial.

Meghan’s lawyers are expected to argue that Associated Newspaper Ltd’s defence has no prospect of succeeding at a trial.

She is seeking damages from Associated Newspapers Ltd, the newspaper’s publisher and operator of the website, for alleged misuse of private information, copyright infringement and breach of the Data Protection Act.

The publisher denies the allegations, particularly the duchess’s claim the letter was edited in any way that changed its meaning, claiming it will hotly contest the case.

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