Meghan's lawyers say UK news group has no defence for letter's publication

By: AFP      Published: 10:09 PM, 19 Jan, 2021
Meghan's lawyers say UK news group has no defence for letter's publication

Lawyers for Meghan Markle on Tuesday sought to avoid a potential court showdown with her estranged father, in a high-profile breach of privacy and copyright case she has brought against a British newspaper group.

The Duchess of Sussex is suing Associated Newspapers Ltd over publication of extracts of a letter she wrote to Thomas Markle in August 2018, after her wedding to Prince Harry that May.

Her legal team has previously secured a postponement of a full trial for unspecified confidential reasons. But they are now arguing a further hearing with witnesses is not required.

Meghan's lawyer, Justin Rushbrooke, told the High Court in London the defence offered by the publishers of the Mail on Sunday and MailOnline website had no realistic chance of success.

"We say that, actually, at its heart, it is a very straightforward case about the unlawful publication of a private letter," he said at the remote hearing, which is set to last two days.

The publication of extracts from the letter was a "plain and serious breach of her rights to privacy, and the defendant has no viable defence to it", he added.

Not only did it breach media guidelines the newspaper was signed up to but was a "triple-barrelled invasion" of her legal rights to private correspondence as well as a private and family life, he added.

Rushbrooke said only the author of a private letter had control over what happened to it, not the newspaper, and that applied to anyone, even if they were not a duchess.

Heartfelt plea

Judge Mark Warby ruled against Meghan in a preliminary hearing last year, striking out elements of her claim.

Meghan, an American former television actress, alleges that reporters acted "dishonestly and in bad faith", and "deliberately dug up or stirred conflict" between her and her father.

She claimed they had an "obvious agenda of publishing intrusive or offensive stories" which were "intended to portray her in a false and damaging light".

The newspaper group was allowed to amend its defence against the claim, to allege the couple were willing to give journalists access to the letter when the circumstances suited them.

In particular, Associated accuses Meghan of giving the authors of "Finding Freedom", a biography of her life with Harry, details about the letter to portray her version of events in a more favourable light.

The news group also claims she wanted to use the letter "as part of a media strategy", and discussed it with royal communications officials before it was sent.

But Rushbrooke said the court could be satisfied there was no cooperation or strategy in the writing of the letter, which he described as a "heartfelt plea" to her father to stop speaking to the media.

"It simply doesn't make sense for the claimant to put that sort of letter in the public domain. It would achieve the very opposite of what she's trying to achieve," he added.

Meghan, who sent the letter by courier to her father's home in Mexico, had a reasonable expectation it would remain private, the lawyer told the court.

"We say there was no debate of general interest," said Rushbrooke. "There was the rather sad intricacies of a family relationship, which is not a matter of public interest.

"It's absolutely clear they (Associated) have failed to advance a viable case for justifying the intrusion into the claimant's (privacy) rights."

Scraping the barrel

On copyright, Associated is claiming "fair-dealing" by publishing extracts of the letter.

But lawyer Ian Mill, also representing Meghan, said they had "no case" and a trial was not needed.

Their arguments were "the result of scraping the bottom of every barrel that could conceivably be found. They fail miserably to achieve that result", he added.

Meghan and Harry, who quit frontline royal duties in March last year citing media intrusion, are waging an increasingly public war with some news outlets.

Harry -- grandson of Queen Elizabeth II and son of heir to the throne Prince Charles and the late Diana, princess of Wales -- has separately brought cases against two other British tabloid publishers for alleged phone hacking.

The couple now live with their young son Archie in the United States and have set up a charitable foundation.