Meghan Markle Loses First Round in Privacy Lawsuit Against British Tabloids
By Antoinette Bueno
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry had a legal setback on Friday in their court battle against a U.K. tabloid.
In October, 35-year-old Prince Harry and 38-year-old Meghan announced that they were pursuing legal action against Associated Newspapers -- owners of The Daily Mail, MailOnline, Metro and more -- after The Mail on Sundaypublished a private, handwritten letter that Meghan wrote to her father, Thomas Markle, in August 2018. The lawsuit seeks damages for the alleged misuse of private information, breach of data protection rights and copyright infringement.
But in a preliminary hearing, high court judge Mark Warby struck out parts of the couple's claims at the request of The Mail on Sunday. The ruling, published on Friday, states that the court will not be required to determine whether or not the newspaper had acted dishonestly, stirred up conflict between Meghan and her father, or had published offensive and intrusive articles about her since the claims were "irrelevant" to Meghan's claim for misuse of private information, copyright infringement and breach of Britain's Data Protection Act. Warby ruled that the case will solely focus on the infringement of privacy, breach of copyright and violation of data protection laws.
The judge also made clear that none of the elements struck out are required in order for Meghan to win her claim.
"I do not consider the allegations in question go to the 'heart' of the case, which at its core concerns the publication of five articles disclosing the words of, and information drawn from, the letter written by the claimant to her father in August in 2018," the ruling states.
A spokesperson for Schillings, the law firm acting on behalf of Meghan, said in a statement on Friday that it will continue on with the case.
"Today's ruling makes very clear that the core elements of this case do not change and will continue to move forward," the statement reads. "The Duchess' rights were violated; the legal boundaries around privacy were crossed. As part of this process, the extremes to which The Mail on Sunday used distortive, manipulative, and dishonest tactics to target The Duchess of Sussex have been put on full display."
"Whilst the Judge recognizes that there is a claim for breach of privacy and copyright, we are surprised to see that his ruling suggests that dishonest behavior is not relevant," the statement continues. "We feel honesty and integrity are at the core of what matters; or as it relates to the Mail on Sunday and Associated Newspapers, their lack thereof. Nonetheless, we respect the Judge's decision as the strong case against Associated will continue to focus on the issue of a private, intimate and hand-written letter from a daughter to her father that was published by The Mail on Sunday. This gross violation of any person's right to privacy is obvious and unlawful, and The Mail on Sunday should be held to account for their actions."
In October, a Mail on Sunday spokesman told ET about the case: "The Mail on Sunday stands by the story it published and will be defending this case vigorously. Specifically, we categorically deny that the Duchess's letter was edited in any way that changed its meaning."
The procedural hearing was held virtually in front of Justice Warby due to the coronavirus pandemic on April 24. Meghan and Harry's team told NBC News that the couple, who are now based in Los Angeles, got up at 4 a.m. PT in order to call in to part of the proceedings.
The Mail on Sunday published excerpts of the letter in question in February 2019, and Thomas told the newspaper at the time that he never intended to make the handwritten letter public "out of respect for Meghan," but said he had been forced to do so because its contents had been falsely portrayed. At the time, the newspaper reported that Thomas was "devastated" by the letter which read in part, "Daddy, it is with a heavy heart that I write this, not understanding why you have chosen to take this path, turning a blind eye to the pain you're causing."
Meanwhile, court documents were released earlier this month that revealed new details on the troubled relationship between Meghan and Thomas. Meghan's U.K. lawyers shared the contents of several personal texts from both Meghan and Harry to Thomas leading up to their 2018 royal wedding as part of the 33-page response to The Mail on Sunday publishers.
Royal expert Katie Nicholl commented to ET about what Meghan must have been feeling after this ruling. "It's fair to say that Meghan was disappointed by Friday’s ruling but she's not appealing it and that's because she knows it doesn't have any barring on the outcome of the trial, which will come at some point later this year," she explains. "I was also told by sources in her camp that she feels there has been a positive in all of this. More people now will have a better understanding of what she and her father have been through at the hands of what she perceives to be a negative and intrusive and dishonest tabloid press."