The Duchess of Sussex is suing the publisher over five articles published in the Mail on Sunday and MailOnline that reproduced parts of a handwritten letter she had sent to her father, Thomas Markle. Meghan claims this breached her privacy and copyright. However, the publisher has defended itself, claiming that Meghan breached her own privacy by allowing five friends to speak to People Magazine earlier in the year, when one of her friends told the magazine about the letter.
They said the Duchess had written: “Dad, I’m so heartbroken. I love you. I have one father. Please stop victimising me through the media so we can repair our relationship.”
Associated Newspapers said their publishing of the letter was a response to this.
The Duchess’ team then countered by saying she was “unaware” her friends were going to do this and had not given them consent to do so.
While this is key to the case, Meghan wanted to keep her five friends anonymous and she won this battle on August 5.
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Judge Mark Warby ruled at London’s High Court that their names could not be published as part of her lawsuit ‒ however, there was an important caveat.
He said: “I have concluded that, for the time being at least, the court should grant the claimant the order she seeks.”
The key phrase here is, of course, “for the time being”, which implies this can be overturned at a later date and the names released if it is deemed necessary.
In her lawsuit, Meghan’s team said they believed her friends had been driven to speaking to People Magazine anonymously, because Kensington Palace had “mandated” that those close to the Duchess should give “no comment” when approached by the press.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle stepped down as senior royals at the end of March
She believes they shared her frustration at being “silenced” and that they were “rightly concerned for her welfare, specifically as she was pregnant”.
Her lawyers also argued that the friends, who had condemned Meghan’s alleged bullying from the media, were not parties to the case and had a “basic right to privacy”.
However, Associated Newspapers attorney Antony White said during the court hearing that the friends were potential witnesses in the case, and keeping their names secret “would be a heavy curtailment of the media’s and defendant’s entitlement to report this case and the public’s right to know about it”.
The judge acknowledged he has to balance “the competing demands of confidentiality and open justice”.
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In the end, he ruled in favour of anonymity, saying it would serve justice by shielding Meghan’s friends from the “glare of publicity” in the pretrial stage of the case.
He said: “Generally, it does not help the interests of justice if those involved in litigation are subjected to, or surrounded by, a frenzy of publicity.
“At trial, that is a price that may have to be paid in the interests of transparency. But it is not a necessary concomitant of the pretrial phase.”
While the five friends’ names are included in the confidential court document, they have been identified in public using only the letters A, B, C, D and E.
A source close to the team representing Meghan told People Magazine: “The Duchess felt it was necessary to take this step to try and protect her friends – as any of us would – and we’re glad this was clear.
“We are happy that the Judge has agreed to protect these five individuals.”
The full trial will take place next year.
Pod Save the Queen is hosted by Ann Gripper and features Daily Mirror royal editor Russell Myers.
Mr Myers pointed out that the “killer line” given by the judge meant his decision could change, potentially if the five friends are called to give evidence.
He said: “They had yet another hearing which was to iron out the details of whether these five friends would be named in the court case.
“The issue is that the judge said he won’t grant permission for them to be named ‘at the moment’ and this is the killer line because it may transpire that these five friends are called to give evidence and we have spoken before about how this is really, really integral to the case.”
He added that Meghan’s claim that naming her friends would be an unacceptable price to pay because their lives would be ruined is “absolute nonsense”.
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He claimed it does not take a “brain surgeon” to work out who these friends are, and that numerous articles have named who they suspect are the friends.
Mr Myers said: “Meghan said via her lawyers that it would be an unacceptable price to pay if the judge did grant permission for them to be named because they made representation essentially saying that if these five people would be named then the press would be all over them, they would have their lives trampled on.
“I mean, that is absolute nonsense because these five friends have been named in countless articles – it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to work out who they are, it’s all over certain articles.”
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