Meghan Markle: Publication of 'private and personal' letter was unlawful, court hears

January 19, 2021

Lawyers for the Duchess of Sussex have asked a judge to settle part of a lawsuit over the publication of an "intrinsically personal" letter to her estranged father before it goes to trial.

Meghan, 39, is suing the publisher of The Mail On Sunday and MailOnline over a series of articles which reproduced parts of a handwritten letter sent to 76-year-old Thomas Markle in August 2018.

She is seeking damages for alleged misuse of private information, copyright infringement and breach of the Data Protection Act over five articles, published in February 2019.

But publisher Associated Newspapers say Meghan wrote the letter "with a view to it being disclosed publicly at some future point".

Her lawyers say the publication of the letter was a "plain and serious invasion" of her privacy and argue Associated Newspapers has "no prospect" of defending her privacy and copyright claims.

The duchess is applying for "summary judgment", a legal step which would see those parts of the case resolved without a High Court trial.

"At its heart it's a very straightforward case about the unlawful publication of a private letter," her lawyer Justin Rushbrooke at the start of a two-day High Court hearing on Tuesday, held remotely because of coronavirus restrictions.

Mr Rushbrooke said Meghan had every expectation that "a heartfelt plea from an anguished daughter to her father" would remain private.

He said the "contents and character of the letter were intrinsically private, personal and sensitive in nature" and that Meghan therefore "had a reasonable expectation of privacy" as to its contents.

Lawyers for the duchess say Mr Markle, a retired television cinematographer, caused anguish for Meghan and Harry before their May 2018 wedding by giving media interviews and posing for wedding-preparation shots taken by a paparazzi agency.

In the end he did not attend the wedding ceremony after suffering a heart attack.

Mr Rushbrooke told the court "one cannot really overstate the sensitive nature of the contents of the letter", which he said contains the word "painful" five times.

He added: "It is a letter that was... not written in anger but written in sorrow, by a daughter who clearly felt she had reached a breaking point in her relationship with her father."

He said the duchess took steps to ensure the five-page, 1,250-word letter would not be intercepted, sending it by FedEx through her accountant to her father's home in Mexico.

Meghan's barrister also said she didn't "rationally expect that her father would make public" a letter which was "so damaging to him".

But Associated Newspapers' barrister Antony White QC argued that "there is a very real question" as to whether Meghan had any expectation of privacy.

Mr White said in written submissions that Meghan's admission she "feared" her letter might be intercepted showed that "she must, at the very least, have appreciated that her father might choose to disclose it".

He also referred to the involvement of the Kensington Palace communications team before the letter was sent, saying: "No truly private letter from daughter to father would require any input from the Kensington Palace communications team."

Associated Newspapers say Meghan previously made personal information public by cooperating with the authors of a behind-the-scenes book about her and Harry, Finding Freedom.

She denies collaborating with the authors - though she acknowledges allowing someone close to her to speak to them - and the book is expected to feature prominently in the upcoming trial.

Mr Rushbrooke said one of the two authors, Omid Scobie, has confirmed that he "lifted" the extracts from the letter which featured in the book "from the defendant's own articles".

As a result, he said any suggestion that the information "could only have come from the claimant" was incorrect.

In October judge Mark Warby agreed to Meghan's request to postpone the trial, scheduled to begin this month, until October or November 2021. He said the reason for the delay should remain secret.

The remote hearing before Mr Justice Warby is due to last two days and it is expected he will reserve his judgment to a later date.

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