Court rules in favour of Duchess of Sussex in latest stage of legal action against Associated Newspapers
Jim Waterson Media editor – The Guardian
Meghan is suing the publisher of the Mail on Sunday over an article that reproduced parts of a letter she sent to her estranged father, Thomas Markle. Photograph: Chris Jackson/PA
The Duchess of Sussex has won a high court bid to keep secret the identities of five friends who gave anonymous interviews to a US celebrity magazine, in the latest stage of her legal action against the owner of the Mail on Sunday.
Meghan is suing Associated Newspapers, the publisher of the Mail on Sunday and Mail Online, over an article that reproduced parts of a “private and confidential” handwritten letter she sent to her estranged father, Thomas Markle, in August 2018.
The Mail’s lawyers argued that five of her friends revealed the letter’s existence when they anonymously briefed People magazine – meaning it was already in the public domain and Thomas Markle had a right to respond and defend his reputation. The duchess has always insisted she did not authorise her friends to speak to the magazine.
At a preliminary hearing in London last week, Meghan’s lawyers applied for the five friends to remain anonymous in reports of the proceedings, amid fears they would be named in the media.
In a ruling on Wednesday, Mr Justice Warby said he had concluded that, “for the time being at least”, the duchess should be granted an order that protects the identities of the five individuals.
However, there is still no date for a trial in the case, which has already had almost a year of legal proceedings and many court hearings.
Markle’s team believes the Mail is dragging out the legal process with multiple rounds of questions in order to extract more potentially embarrassing material. Recent court disclosures as part of the case have resulted in details of her financial relationship with her father being made public as well as other details of her treatment by the British tabloids.
At an earlier hearing, lawyers for the duchess claimed the friends who spoke anonymously to a US magazine to defend her against British tabloid bullying were entitled to a “super-charged right of confidentiality”.
Forcing her to make their names public was an “unacceptable price to pay” for pursuing her legal action over publication of extracts from a private letter she wrote to her estranged father, the lawyers said.
In a witness statement, she said the Mail’s owner “is threatening to publish the names of five women – five private citizens – who made a choice on their own to speak anonymously with a US media outlet more than a year ago, to defend me from the bullying behaviour of Britain’s tabloid media.
“These five women are not on trial, and nor am I. The publisher of the Mail on Sunday is the one on trial. It is this publisher that acted unlawfully and is attempting to evade accountability; to create a circus and distract from the point of this case – that the Mail on Sunday unlawfully published my private letter.”
She said the women were private citizens and had “a basic right to privacy” rather than being dragged into the court case.