British newspaper group calls for full trial in Meghan Markle case

A March 2020 photo shows Britain's Prince Harry and his wife Meghan during an event in London. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - Lawyers for a British newspaper group that Meghan Markle is suing for publishing a private letter to her estranged father called on Wednesday (Jan 20) for a full trial to "shed light" on the case.

The Duchess of Sussex launched legal action against Associated Newspapers, which publishes the Mail on Sunday and MailOnline website, for printing extracts of the letter to Thomas Markle.

The letter was written in August 2018, a few months after Meghan Markle married Prince Harry, and asked her father to stop talking to tabloids and making false claims about her in interviews.

Her legal team are seeking damages and argue there is no need for a full trial, as it was a clear breach of her privacy and copyright.

Should the judge agree, it would avoid a potential showdown between father and daughter at the High Court in London.

A lawyer representing Associated Newspapers, Antony White, told judge Mark Warby on the second day of the hearing that the case "cries out for investigation" and was "wholly unsuitable for summary judgement".

White said a letter from lawyers representing four former employees of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex said that "further oral evidence and documentary evidence is likely to be available at trial, which would shed light on certain key factual issues in the case".

The letter from lawyers representing the four, who worked in communications and as a private secretary for the Sussexes, says that "one or more of our clients would be in a position to shed some light" on the "creation of the letter and the electronic draft".

It adds that none "wish to take sides" and they do not welcome their "potential involvement in this litigation".

One of the four, Jason Knauf, formerly communications secretary to the Duke and Duchess, helped Markle draft the letter, though the sides disagree on the extent of his contribution.

'Media strategy'

White argued that Meghan wanted the contents of her letter to be made public, saying she had discussed it with the Kensington Palace communications team and passed information on it through friends to authors of a book about her and Prince Harry.

He said Markle "knowingly caused information about her personal relationship and communications with her father including the existence of the letter and a description of its contents to enter the public domain".

He said this suggested she was planning to use it as part of a "media strategy".

Markle's lawyer Ian Mill in turn accused Associated's lawyers of throwing up a "smokescreen" to disguise the fact they have "no material or argument that can justify a trial."

Another of her lawyers, Justin Rushbrooke, called the letter "self-evidently private".

The judge said the case concerned a "difficult area" but questioned White's argument that Meghan Markle had forfeited the right to privacy.

"It would be unfair to deprive or find against a person on an issue about privacy simply because they have disclosed something about their private life in an attempt to deal with unfair or unwarranted disclosures by others," he told the court.

The judge said he would try to draw up a draft judgement within two weeks, after which there would be a decision on whether to hold another hearing.

Meghan's lawyers have denied she intended the letter to be made public at some point, or that she collaborated with the authors of the biography, which also contained partial extracts of the letter.

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.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.