Meghan wins appeal in privacy dispute with U.K. publisher
Published Thursday, December 2, 2021 5:17AM EST Last Updated Thursday, December 2, 2021 10:02AM EST
LONDON -- The Duchess of Sussex on Thursday won the latest stage in her long-running privacy lawsuit against a British newspaper publisher over its publication of parts of a letter she wrote to her estranged father.
The Court of Appeal in London upheld a High Court ruling that the publisher of The Mail on Sunday and MailOnline website unlawfully breached the former Meghan Markle's privacy by reproducing a large chunk of the handwritten letter she sent her father, Thomas Markle, after she married Prince Harry in 2018.
Associated Newspapers challenged the decision at the Court of Appeal, which held a hearing last month. Dismissing the appeal, senior judge Geoffrey Vos told the court Thursday that "the Duchess had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the contents of the letter. Those contents were personal, private and not matters of legitimate public interest."
The publisher said it was "very disappointed" and was considering an appeal to the U.K. Supreme Court.
In a statement, Meghan, 40, condemned the publisher for treating the lawsuit as "a game with no rules" and said the ruling was "a victory not just for me, but for anyone who has ever felt scared to stand up for what's right."
"What matters most is that we are now collectively brave enough to reshape a tabloid industry that conditions people to be cruel, and profits from the lies and pain that they create," she said.
Associated Newspapers published about half of the letter in five articles in August 2018. Their lawyers disputed Meghan's claim that she didn't intend the letter to be seen by anyone but her father.
They said correspondence between Meghan and her then-communications secretary, Jason Knauf, showed the duchess suspected her father might leak the letter to journalists and wrote it with that in mind.
The publisher also argued that the publication of the letter was part of Thomas Markle's right to reply following a People magazine interview with five of Meghan's friends alleging he was "cruelly cold-shouldering" his daughter in the run-up to her royal wedding.
But Vos said that the article, which the Mail on Sunday described as "sensational," was "splashed as a new public revelation" rather than focusing on Thomas Markle's response to negative media reports about him.
In their appeal, Associated Newspapers had also argued that Meghan made private information public by cooperating with Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand, authors of "Finding Freedom," a sympathetic book about her and Harry.
The duchess' lawyers had previously denied that she or Harry collaborated with the authors. But Knauf said in evidence to the court that he gave the writers information, and discussed it with Harry and Meghan.
Knauf's evidence, which hadn't previously been disclosed, was a dramatic twist in the long-running case.
In response, Meghan apologized for misleading the court about the extent of her cooperation with the book's authors.
The duchess said she didn't remember the discussions with Knauf when she gave evidence earlier in the case, and said she had "absolutely no wish or intention to mislead the defendant or the court."
Meghan, a former star of the American TV legal drama "Suits," married Harry, a grandson of Queen Elizabeth II, at Windsor Castle in May 2018.
Meghan and Harry announced in early 2020 that 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 have settled in Santa Barbara, California, with their two young children.
In her statement Thursday, Meghan said she had been subject to "deception, intimidation and calculated attacks" in the three years since the lawsuit began.
"The longer they dragged it out, the more they could twist facts and manipulate the public (even during the appeal itself), making a straightforward case extraordinarily convoluted in order to generate more headlines and sell more newspapers -- a model that rewards chaos above truth," she said.
Associated Newspapers had argued the case should go to a trial on Meghan's claims against the publisher.
Associated Newspapers said in a statement Thursday that it believed "judgment should be given only on the basis of evidence tested at trial," especially since "Mr. Knauf's evidence raises issues as to the Duchess's credibility. "
Lawyer Mark Stephens, who specializes in media law and is not connected to the case, said he believed the publisher will appeal, though it would be unusual for Britain's Supreme Court to take such a case. He said the publisher could also try to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.
"There's an issue of principle here, which is whether this case should be finished before a trial without disclosure, without testing the evidence," Stephens said. The ruling did not settle questions about whether the letter to Thomas Markle was "always intended for Meghan's side to publish and to leak and to use as briefing material," he added.
Associated Newspapers "have a right to this trial, and I think that that is just going to protract the pain for Meghan Markle," Stephens said.
Danica Kirka in London contributed to this report