Prince Harry's legal battle with Sun publisher to go on after latest ruling

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex walks outside the Rolls Building of the High Court in London, Britain June 7, 2023

A High Court judge has rejected a request by the publisher of the Sun newspaper for a preliminary trial it hoped would cut short its battle with the Duke of Sussex over allegations of unlawful information gathering.

News Group Newspapers asked for the trial to help decide whether 42 people, including Prince Harry, had left it too late to claim that investigators and journalists had breached their privacy.

Under legal rules, claims usually have to be brought within six years, but many of these cases go back decades.

The claimants argue News Group Newspapers (NGN) concealed evidence of phone hacking, making it impossible for them to sue sooner.

The company has previously said the Sun does not accept liability or make any admissions to the allegations.

On Friday, Mr Justice Fancourt said NGN, which also published the now-closed News of the World, had a "real as opposed to fanciful chance of succeeding" in winning the arguments over the legal time limit.

But he decided not to agree to the preliminary trial, meaning the two sides are now due to go to a full trial on claims of phone hacking and unlawful information gathering in January 2025.

NGN hoped to win a preliminary trial by showing that a sample of claimants could have made their allegations years ago. If it was successful, those cases would be disposed of, and the others would be more likely to settle out of court.

However, among other concerns, Mr Justice Fancourt said it would be "far from straightforward" to decide which cases should be part of the preliminary trial, and there was a "considerable risk" the additional legal hearings would add to the mounting costs of litigation.

He also said a preliminary process would delay a full trial that the claimants have been waiting for since 2022.

"I consider there are too few advantages at this stage to abandoning the orderly preparation of a trial of all the issues, to hold a trial of just one issue," the judge said, pointing out that either side could have appealed, further delaying the legal battle.