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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Meghan privacy claim against Mail on Sunday owner ‘continues’ despite setback

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Lawyers for the Duchess of Sussex have insisted her privacy claim against the publishers of the Mail on Sunday will continue after she was dealt an initial blow when a judge ruled that part of her case should be struck out.

Lawyers for Associated Newspapers had argued last month against elements of her claim, including that some words and sentences from a letter sent by Meghan to her estranged father, Thomas Markle, had been “dishonestly” cut out before publication in order to paint a misleading picture of the relationship between the two.

Meghan is suing Associated for misuse of private information, breach of data protection and copyright infringement after the Mail on Sunday and Mail Online, which it owns, published contents of the handwritten letter sent to Markle, 75, in August 2018.

Associated Newspapers denies the claims.

Delivering his ruling on Friday, Mr Justice Warby struck out allegations that the publisher had acted “dishonestly” by leaving out certain passages of the letter.

He also struck out 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.

Those allegations should not form part of the duchess’s case at this stage, he said, because they were “irrelevant” to her claim for misuse of private information, copyright infringement and breach of the Data Protection Act.

But he said those parts of her case may be revived at a later stage, if they are put on a proper legal basis.

“Some of the allegations are struck out as irrelevant to the purpose for which they are pleaded,” said the judge.

“Some are struck out on the further or alternative ground that they are inadequately detailed. I have also acted so as to confine the case to what is reasonably necessary and proportionate for the purpose of doing justice between these parties.

“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.”

In a statement issued soon after the ruling, at noon on Friday, the law firm representing the duchess insisted the ruling made it very clear that the core elements of the case do no change and that it would continue to move forward.

“The duchess’s rights were violated; the legal boundaries around privacy were crossed,” added the spokesperson for Schillings.

“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.”

Giving further details of his reasoning, the judge said: “I have also acted so as to confine the case to what is reasonably necessary and proportionate for the purpose of doing justice between these parties.

“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.

The action by the duchess focuses on five articles – two in the Mail on Sunday, and three on Mail Online – reproducing parts of the letters, with the headline on one reading: “Revealed: The letter showing the true tragedy of Meghan’s rift with a father she says has ‘broken her heart into a million pieces’.”

During a hearing last month, which was heard remotely before a virtual court hearing in London, lawyers for Meghan accused the Mail of “stirring up” issues between the duchess and Markle, then using it to justify publishing a “private and confidential” letter.

She was said to have been distressed at the realisation that Associated Newspapers had an agenda of “intrusive and offensive” stories about her.

But counsel for the publisher argued allegations by her that the articles were responsible for “causing” the dispute between them were “objectionable”.

Antony White, QC for Associated Newspapers, said allegations of “dishonesty and malicious intent” were not relevant in a misuse of private information case. “They are not relevant, they are not properly pleaded and should be pruned from the claimant’s case.”

Claims by Meghan that the newspaper had “harassed, humiliated, manipulated and exploited” her were “remarkable” given that she had not contacted her father to ask if he agreed, he added.

David Sherborne, representing the duchess, claimed the publisher had “harassed” her father, adding that it had “finally manipulated this vulnerable man into giving interviews”, which Mr Markle had later described as “lies and bullshit”.

Sherborne accused the publisher of “stirring up” a dispute between Meghan and her father, and argued it “caused the very dispute” that it says, “justifies the publication of this letter”.

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