TODAY the Duchess of Sussex’s lawyers are up against Associated Newspapers Ltd as it seeks to limit her lawsuit against them by having sections of it struck out.
In particular it wants claims it acted dishonesty and with malice when the Mail on Sunday published a letter she sent her father to be removed from her pleadings.
The Mail on Sunday is the UK’s biggest mid-market Sunday newspaper and sister to The Daily Mail and MailOnline, which is among the world’s best-read news and gossip websites. Its owner is the billionaire Press oligarch Viscount Rothermere.
The procedural hearing in front of Mr Justice Warby at the High Court in London is due to start at 10:30am BST and last all day. No witnesses will be called, with evidence filed in written form.
However, key details of the Duchess’s case will be emerging – as will the Defence of the newspaper publishers.
Byline Investigates will be covering the proceedings with live Tweets and other rolling coverage.
WHAT IS THE DUCHESS OF SUSSEX’S LAWSUIT ABOUT?
MEGHAN Markle’s legal team is in Court today because the publishers of the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, and MailOnline are seeking to ‘strike out’ (remove) four small sections of her case alleging they misused her private information by publishing parts of a personal letter she sent her father Thomas Markle on August 27, 2018.
Today’s hearing focuses solely on the Duchess’s legal action for the alleged misuse of her private information, and not her parallel claims alleging data protection offences and copyright infringement.
No date has yet been set for a full trial of the facts, but all indications are that both sides are determined to go all the way to court, with the Mail titles hoping to produce Thomas Markle as a witness.
The claim relates to five articles published by the defendants in the Mail on Sunday and/or MailOnline on February 10 2019 that reproduced parts of the letter or commentated on it.
The Duchess is seeking damages including aggravated damages and other remedies likely to include a take-down of the articles in question, an apology, and undertakings as to future conduct.
THE TIME-LINE SO FAR (click link to see our detailed table):
February 10, 2019 – Mail on Sunday publishes letter
September 29, 2019 – Duchess of Sussex lodges Claim Form at Chancery Division of the High Court in London
October 11, 2019 – 16-page Particulars of Claim served (the formal case)
October 23, 2019 – Duchess responds to a ‘Part 18’ Request for Further Information from Associated Newspapers Ltd’s (ANL) lawyers RPC LLP. Her response sets out a number of additional articles published by the Defendant which are said to be false or misleading, and suggest a course of conduct.
November 28, 2019 – Duchess of Sussex responds to a further request for further information.
January 14, 2020 – ANL files its formal Defence, claiming it was entitled to reproduce the personal letter it acquired from Mr Markle because (having been sent it) it was allegedly his to share. ANL says that, as Ms Markle had become a member of the British Royal family, she is therefore open to particular scrutiny in her private affairs, and – further – that she could not have expected her letter to be have been kept private after unnamed sources, whom ANL claim acted with the Duchess’s knowledge or blessing, gave an interview to US magazine People referred to the letter in a lengthy interview. ANL claims relies on a “public interest” Defence in publishing the letter.
April 17, 2020 – Duchess of Sussex replies to Defence with a series of strong rebuttals, including a flat denial of any involvement in the People article which ANL has made the central pillar of its argument. She accuses ANL of attacking and intimidating her in the Defence and in its newspapers since she brought her lawsuit. She rubbished the company’s claims it had a right to publish the letter on behalf of Mr Markle, instead saying it was for their own “self-serving commercial interest”. The Duchess’s legal team reproduce text messages she and her husband Prince Harry sent Thomas Markle, which – they say – undermine the Defence. The Duchess says ANL’s “public interest” Defence is false and that it was in fact acting purely in its “self-serving commercial interest”.
THIS is the hearing of a pre-trial procedural application filed by ANL on January 14, 2020.
The application is for an order striking out four sections of the Particulars of Claim, and all the corresponding parts of the claimant’s Further Information about the Particulars of Claim.
Specifically, the application asks the Court to strike out allegations it behaved dishonestly by deliberately omitting parts of the letter; engaged in a course of conduct against the Duchess; behaved with malicious intent, and had sought to deliberately dig up issues to provoke trouble between the Duchess and her father.
ANL says the allegations of dishonesty and malicious intent do not form part of any cause of action advanced against it; that the claims about digging up issues are unsupported by the case argument and that the articles relied upon to show a course of conduct – including one linking the Duchess’s enjoyment of avocado toast to “murder” and “human rights” abuses – are irrelevant.