The Duchess of Sussex has won a High Court privacy claim against the Mail on Sunday over the publication of a “personal and private” handwritten letter to her estranged father, Thomas Markle.
Meghan sued Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL), the publisher of The Mail On Sunday and MailOnline, over a series of articles which reproduced parts of a letter she sent to Mr Markle, 76, in August 2018.
In a statement released following the ruling, the duchess said she was grateful ANL had been “held to account for their illegal and dehumanising practices”.
She added: “These tactics (and those of their sister publications MailOnline and the Daily Mail) are not new; in fact, they've been going on for far too long without consequence.
“For these outlets, it’s a game. For me and so many others, it’s real life, real relationships, and very real sadness. The damage they have done and continue to do runs deep.”
The duchess is seeking damages for alleged misuse of private information, copyright infringement and breach of the Data Protection Act.
The claims are in relation to five articles published in February 2019, which included extracts from the “private and confidential” letter to Mr Markle.
Meghan’s lawyers had argued at a hearing in January that ANL had “no prospect” of defending her claim for misuse of private information and breach of copyright.
They asked the High Court to grant “summary judgment” in relation to those claims, a legal step which would see those parts of the case resolved without a trial.
In a judgment on Thursday, Mr Justice Warby ruled that the publication of Meghan’s letter to her father was “manifestly excessive and hence unlawful”.
The judge said: “It was, in short, a personal and private letter. The majority of what was published was about the claimant’s own behaviour, her feelings of anguish about her father’s behaviour – as she saw it – and the resulting rift between them.
“These are inherently private and personal matters.”
He ruled: “The claimant had a reasonable expectation that the contents of the letter would remain private. The Mail articles interfered with that reasonable expectation.”
The judge added: “There is no prospect that a different judgment would be reached after a trial.”
A statement from the Mail on Sunday said: “We are very surprised by today’s summary judgment and disappointed at being denied the chance to have all the evidence heard and tested in open court at a full trial.
“We are carefully considering the judgment’s contents and will decide in due course whether to lodge an appeal.”
In relation to Meghan’s copyright claim, Mr Justice Warby found that the publication of the letter – which he described as “a long-form telling-off” – did infringe her copyright.
But the judge said the issue of whether Meghan “the sole author” of the letter or Jason Knauf, formerly communications secretary to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, was a “co-author” should be determined at a trial.
Mr Justice Warby said that there would be a further hearing in March to decide “the next steps” in the legal action.
Meghan’s data protection claim was not considered at the hearing in January and is still outstanding.
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