Inside Meghan Markle's Legal Battle to Protect Her Friends Against the British Tabloids
People Senior News Editor, Erin Hill talks about the latest news of Meghan Markle’s legal battle to protect her closest friends
Meghan Markle has won a legal bid to protect the anonymity of five friends who spoke to PEOPLE in February 2019 as her court case against publishers Associated Newspapers and the Mail on Sunday continues.
A British judge ruled Wednesday that the Mail on Sunday cannot name the friends who came to Meghan's defense anonymously in last year's cover story.
“I have concluded that, for the time being at least, the court should grant the claimant the order that she seeks,” High Court judge Mark Warby said.
A source from the team representing the Duchess of Sussex tells PEOPLE, "The Duchess felt it was necessary to take this step to try and protect her friends—as any of us would—and we’re glad this was clear. We are happy that the Judge has agreed to protect these five individuals."
Girl Up Meghan Markle
Meghan, 39, is suing publishers Associated Newspapers and the Mail on Sunday for printing extracts of a “private and confidential” letter sent to her father, Thomas Markle, in August 2018 — three months after her wedding to Prince Harry.
During a pre-trial hearing last week, Associated Newspapers argued that as the letter was first referenced in the PEOPLE cover story, her friends could be called as witnesses and therefore named.
Gareth Fuller-Pool/Getty Meghan Markle and Prince Harry
In response, Meghan's lawyers applied to protect the identities of her friends on the grounds that they have a "right" to privacy.
On Wednesday, Justice Warby agreed with Meghan, "for the time being" — going on to stress that his ruling was an "interim decision" and could change if one or more of the friends, whose identities have not been publicly disclosed, gives evidence at a future trial.
"The weight to be given to the relevant factors may well change as the case progresses," he added.
Wednesday's ruling is the latest stage in Markle's lawsuit, which is expected to go to a full trial in late 2020 or early 2021.
Phil Noble/Getty Meghan Markle and Prince Harry
Meghan and Harry were not present at the proceedings, which have taken place under strict coronavirus measures restricting access to the courtroom.
On May 1, Meghan lost the first stage of her battle against the Mail, when Justice Warby agreed to"strike out" parts of Meghan’s claim in a pre-trial hearing.
It means that if or when the case goes to trial, the court will not be asked to rule on whether the Mail on Sunday acted dishonestly, pursued a negative agenda against Meghan or deliberately stirred up trouble between the Duchess of Sussex and her father, Thomas Markle, 75.
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In response, Meghan said she would “continue to move forward” with her case - a fact evidenced by today's ruling.
"Normally, when such an issue arises it is the claimant who seeks disclosure of the sources," Justice Warby added in reference to Associated Newspapers' desire to upend the key journalistic principle of anonymity for sources.
"The media invariably maintain that the protection of confidential sources is of high importance, and that names should not be disclosed or publicised," he added.
"In this unusual case, the roles are reversed."