LONDON (Reuters) - A tabloid’s publication of a deeply personal letter written by Meghan, Britain’s Duchess of Sussex, to her father was a “plain breach” of privacy, her lawyers told a court on Tuesday and said the judge should rule in her favour without need for a trial.
Meghan, 39, the wife of Queen Elizabeth’s grandson Prince Harry, is suing publisher Associated Newspapers after its Mail on Sunday paper printed extracts of a handwritten letter she sent to her estranged father, Thomas Markle, in August 2018.
At the start of two days of remote hearings, Meghan’s lawyer, Justin Rushbrooke, asked a London High Court judge to issue a summary judgment without a potentially embarrassing trial. The Mail on Sunday, he argued, had no prospect of winning what he called a “plain and serious” breach of her privacy and there was no viable defence.
Meghan says publishing some of the five-page letter, which ran to 1,250 words, was a misuse of private information and breached her copyright.
The letter was penned after the duchess’s relationship with Markle broke down in the run-up to her glittering wedding to Harry in May 2018, which her father missed due to ill health and after he admitted posing for paparazzi pictures.
Rushbrooke told the court Meghan’s “intrinsically private, personal and sensitive letter” had been a plea to her father to stop talking to the press.
“I ask for nothing other than peace. And I wish the same for you,” its concluding sentence, read out by Rushbrooke, said.
CODE OF CONDUCT
The paper published extracts in February the following year, and has justified its action by saying it allowed Markle to respond to interviews Meghan’s anonymous friends had given to the U.S. magazine People.
“It was a total lie. It misrepresented the tone and content of the letter Meg had written me,” Markle wrote in a witness statement, made public on Tuesday, in which he said Meghan had either “expressly authorised” the People interviews or approved of them.
“It was only by publishing the text of the letter that I could properly set the record straight and show that what People magazine had published was false and unfair.”
Meghan’s lawyers told the court that publishing it was a “triple-barrelled” assault on “her private life, her family life and her correspondence”.
Rushbrooke said the Mail on Sunday had broken the code of conduct British newspapers worked by, and the case raised “a disturbing question” about who controlled the contents of a private letter.
“Is it the writer of the letter or the editor of the Mail on Sunday?” Rushbrooke said. “There can only be one answer to that question and the answer would be the same irrespective of whether the writer was a duchess or any other citizen: and the answer is, it is not the editor of the Mail on Sunday.”
In its written defence, the paper said the duchess was willing for private matters to become public if it suited her, saying she had cooperated with a biography of the couple, and there were “inconsistent statements” she needed to explain.
Its lawyers added Meghan had expected or intended the letter to become public, and any expectation of privacy would be outweighed by the paper’s rights to freedom of expression.
“There is uncertainty as to a number of significant factual matters which can, and should, be investigated at trial when the court will have the full picture,” the paper’s legal team said.
The trial was due to start last week but was delayed until late 2021 at Meghan’s request last year because of a confidential reason. Her team also announced at the time they would seek a summary judgement.
If it goes ahead, it raises the prospect of Markle giving evidence in court against his daughter, who he has not seen since they fell out, as well as appearances by the duchess herself and other senior royal aides.
She and Harry now live in Los Angeles, having stepped down from official royal duties last year.
Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by William James, Alex Richardson and Alexandra Hudson
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