- MEGHAN Markle has seen parts of her privacy case against the Mail on Sunday struck out by a judge
- THREE lesser sections of the Duchess of Sussex’s case over the paper’s publication of a private letter she wrote to her father have been removed
- JUDGE Mr Justice Warby left the door open for the Duchess’s lawyers to reintroduce the aggravating features at future hearings
- LEGAL experts say the ruling does not affect the strength of her core claims of Misuse of Private Information, Copyright Infringement and Data Protection breaches, as:
- THE DUCHESS and the publisher continue toward an explosive High Court trial
MEGHAN Markle has a strong case in her privacy battle with the Mail on Sunday over the publication of a personal letter to her father despite a judge’s ruling today that parts of it can be struck out, legal experts have told Byline Investigates.
The Duchess of Sussex is contesting two articles in the Mail on Sunday and three articles by MailOnline in February 2019, which published the contents of the letter to her estranged father Thomas Markle.
Lawyers for publishers Associated Newspapers Ltd (ANL) argued at a preliminary hearing last week that allegations it had acted dishonestly and stoked a rift in her family should be cut from the case.
In a ruling handed down at noon today (Friday May 1 and published in full below), High Court Judge Mr Justice Mark Warby agreed to strike out parts of Meghan’s claim, including allegations the publisher acted “dishonestly” by leaving out certain passages of the letter along with references to other articles about the royal which Meghan says were false.
Allegations that the publisher deliberately “stirred up” issues between Meghan and her father, and that it had an “agenda” of publishing intrusive or offensive stories about her were also trimmed from the lawsuit.
But Professor Paul Wragg of the University of Leeds said: “Those three main claims – Misuse of Private Information, Copyright infringement, and Data Protection breaches – remain very strong grounds for complaint.
“Although you can understand why the Duchess would feel there is an agenda to portray her in a “false and damaging” light, her claim does not need this additional material as it is not strictly relevant to her three specific claims.
“Obviously it is disappointing for the Duchess because aggravated damages would be a higher amount. But at the same time the judge leaves the door open to apply for permission to make amendments to address these concerns.
“I agree with the decision in certain respects. A lot of the issues raised don’t strictly go to the main claims at stake. But as I say, her wider case remains very strong.”
Another legal source said the decision was “procedural” to make the case “more efficient” in line with courtroom guidelines in England and Wales.
The source said: “It goes to the issue of ‘proportionality’ in English law. Essentially, you can’t spend infinite money or time on an issue in England because the loser has to pay the costs of the winner, so the courts always have one eye on what it will cost.
“If it is going to be too costly but not benefit the claim much it is unfair to visit these costs on to the loser.
“It is a procedural judgment with no great material bearing on the case. The judge is making the case more efficient.”
Of whether the Mail on Sunday deliberately stirred conflict in the Markle family to justify its subsequent publication of the letter, Mr Justice Warby said it was “irrelevant” to her claim for misuse of private information, copyright infringement and breach of the Data Protection Act.
He said: “Some are struck out on the further or alternative ground that they are inadequately detailed,” adding that he was confining the case to what is “reasonably necessary and proportionate for the purpose of doing justice between these parties.”
He went on: “I do not consider that the allegations struck out on that basis go to the ‘heart’ of the case, which at its core concerns the publication of five articles disclosing the words of, and information drawn from, the letter written by the claimant to her father in August 2018.”
However, the judge said those parts of her case may be revived at a later stage, if they are put on a proper legal basis.
The legal source added: “Some of the parts the Judge struck out can be added back in but need to be rephrased. It could be redrafted – and application made for permission to amend.
“The parts about Dishonesty and Malice were struck out because they are not needed to demonstrate whether the paper misused private information by publishing the letter.
“The parts the judge says are not pleaded properly can be rephrased if the Duchess wants to continue with certain allegations. But it is no loss to the validity of the Duchess’s wider case.
“The main reason for the strikeout is the sections are peripheral to the case and will increase costs and complexity.
“This will affect the levels of potential damages but not the prospects of success at court. I would say the publisher may have won this skirmish, but not the war.”
The Duchess is seeking damages for alleged misuse of private information, copyright infringement and breach of the Data Protection Act – allegations ANL denies.
In a statement issued after the ruling, a spokesperson for her solicitors Schillings, said her case at heart remained unchanged.
The spokesperson said: “Today’s ruling makes very clear that the core elements of this case do not change and will continue to move forward.
“The Duchess’ rights were violated; the legal boundaries around privacy were crossed.
“As part of this process, the extremes to which the Mail on Sunday used distortive, manipulative, and dishonest tactics to target The Duchess of Sussex have been put on full display.”
Associated Newspapers denies allegations against it, particularly a claim it edited the letter and changed its meaning, and says it will contest the case.