Meghan privacy trial granted postponement until autumn 2021

Caroline Davies
·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Nils Jorgensen/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Nils Jorgensen/Rex/Shutterstock

The Duchess of Sussex has been granted a postponement of her privacy trial against the Mail on Sunday over its publication of extracts of a letter to her estranged father as the high court heard he intends to give evidence in person, but fears for his health.

Meghan was granted the adjournment because of a “confidential” reason following a high court hearing on Thursday in her privacy claim against the publishers Associated Newspapers Ltd (ANL).

Judge Mr Justice Warby agreed to put back the trial, due to start in January, until next autumn. ANL did not object to the adjournment, but urged that any new trial date should be as soon as possible given that Thomas Markle, 76, was in increasing ill health.

In a witness statement, Liz Hartley, ANL’s editorial legal director, said she had spoken to Markle and he intended to fly to London to give evidence in the trial. She quoted him as saying: “This case is causing me anxiety and I want to get it over with as quickly as possible.”

Outlining numerous health complaints, including problems with his heart and lungs, he added: “None of my male relatives has ever lived beyond 80 years of age. I am a realist and I could die tomorrow. The sooner the case takes place, the better.”

Hartley’s statement said Markle wanted his “day in court” to tell his side of the story. “He continues to feel that he has been misrepresented and that the claimant should not be pursuing this claim.” He wanted to defend himself against the suggestion that he breached Meghan’s privacy without reasonable justification, the statement continued.

Warby said the confidential information was the “primary” reason for the adjournment, adding: “The right decision in all the circumstances is to grant the application to adjourn.” No details have been made public on the confidential reason given by the duchess.

The judge refused Meghan permission to appeal against an earlier ruling allowing ANL to rely on the recent biography of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Finding Freedom, as part of its defence.

ANL claims Meghan could not have any expectation of privacy over the letter to her father “because she had knowingly caused or permitted information about her communication with her father, including the contents of the letter, to be disclosed to authors of the book for publication”.

Jane Phillips, representing Meghan, argued that allowing ANL to rely on the book, by Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand, was erroneous in law, and permitted ANL to put forward an “elaborately constructed narrative” based on the false claim that the couple had cooperated with the book’s authors. The only extracts from the letter in the book were those reproduced from the Mail on Sunday’s own article, she said.

ANL’s new defence was “speculative, unsubstantiated by evidence, inherently implausible, shadowy and/or not bona fides”. She described it as “not only a stab in the dark, but a stab in the dark in the wrong room” and a “string of allegations” that were false.

Refusing permission to appeal, Warby said the ruling on the book did not result in ANL pleading a new defence, but rather an “expansion” and “modification” of their defence.

An application by Meghan to have the case determined by way of summary judgment without trial will be heard in January.

Meghan is suing Associated Newspapers over five articles, two in the Mail on Sunday and three on Mail Online, which were published in February 2019.

She is seeking damages for alleged misuse of private information, copyright infringement and breach of the Data Protection Act. ANL wholly denies the allegations, particularly the duchess’s claim that the letter was edited in any way that changed its meaning, and says it will strongly contest the case.