Meghan Markle wins privacy case against Mail on Sunday

Duchess of Sussex took newspaper to court over a letter she sent to her father

(FILES) In this file photo taken on October 16, 2018 Britain's Prince Harry and his wife Meghan walk down the stairs of Sydney’s iconic Opera House   A judge will issue a ruling on Meghan Markle's privacy claim against a newspaper group for publishing a private letter she wrote to her estranged father on February 11, 2021. / AFP / SAEED KHAN
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The Duchess of Sussex won her privacy case against a UK newspaper.

Meghan Markle, 39, the wife of Queen Elizabeth's grandson Prince Harry, sued publisher Associated Newspapers after its Mail on Sunday tabloid printed parts of the handwritten letter she sent to her father, Thomas Markle, in August 2018.

On Thursday, Judge Mark Warby at London's High Court issued a summary judgement, ruling that the articles did breach her privacy.

However, he said issues relating to her copyright of the letter would need to be settled at a trial, which could still be embarrassing for the duchess.

Ms Markle welcomed the court's decision, but said the pain caused by The Mail on Sunday newspaper and its publisher ran deep.

Pedestrians pass by the Royal Courts Of Justice, in London, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021. Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex will ask a High Court judge to rule in her favour in her privacy action against the Mail on Sunday over the publication of a handwritten letter to her estranged father. The case will be heard remotely due to the pandemic. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

"After two long years of pursuing litigation, I am grateful to the courts for holding Associated Newspapers and The Mail on Sunday to account for their illegal and dehumanising practices.

"These tactics (and those of their sister publications MailOnline and the Daily Mail) are not new; in fact, they've been going on for far too long without consequence. The damage they have done and continue to do runs deep," she said.

"The world needs reliable, fact-checked, high-quality news. What The Mail on Sunday and its partner publications do is the opposite.

"We all lose when misinformation sells more than truth, when moral exploitation sells more than decency, and when companies create their business model to profit from people's pain."

Ms Markle wrote the five-page letter to Mr Markle after their relationship collapsed in the run-up to her wedding to Harry in May 2018, which her father missed owing to ill health and after he admitted posing for paparazzi pictures.

The judge said the duchess "had a reasonable expectation that the contents of the letter would remain private. The Mail articles interfered with that reasonable expectation".

In two days of hearings, her lawyers said printing the "personal and sensitive" letter was a "triple-barrelled" assault on "her private life, her family life and her correspondence" and plainly breached her privacy.

The paper argued the duchess always intended the letter's contents to become public and it formed part of a media strategy, pointing out she had admitted in court papers discussing it with her communications secretary.

Ms Markle's lawyers said the "deeply personal" five-page letter was intended for her father alone.

In his ruling, Judge Warby said: “It was, in short, a personal and private letter. The majority of what was published was about the claimant’s own behaviour, her feelings of anguish about her father’s behaviour – as she saw it – and the resulting rift between them."

The Mail, which published extracts in February 2019, said it did so to allow Mr Markle to respond to comments made by his daughter's anonymous friends.

"For the most part they did not serve that purpose at all," Mr Warby said. "Taken as a whole the disclosures were manifestly excessive and hence unlawful. There is no prospect that a different judgment would be reached after a trial."

A statement from The Mail on Sunday said: "We are very surprised by today's summary judgment and disappointed at being denied the chance to have all the evidence heard and tested in open court at a full trial.

"We are carefully considering the judgment's contents and will decide in due course whether to lodge an appeal."

Mr Warby said there would be a further hearing in March to decide "the next steps" in the legal action.

The trial was due to start in January but was delayed until late 2021 at Meghan's request last year because of a confidential reason.

In early 2020, Ms Markle and Harry announced they were quitting royal duties and moving to North America, citing what they said were the unbearable intrusions and racist attitudes of the British media. They recently bought a house in Santa Barbara, California.

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