Meghan’s hollow victory and the court of the public opinion

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THE DUCHESS of Sussex claimed victory in her privacy battle yesterday after senior judges ruled a newspaper should not have published a letter she sent her father Thomas.

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Meghan, 40, said her Court of Appeal success was a triumph for “anyone who has ever felt scared to stand up for what’s right.” Prince Harry’s wife took action against the publisher of the Mail on Sunday over articles based on the letter written shortly after their 2018 fairytale wedding. She claimed Associated Newspapers Limited breached her privacy and copyright by using the words she wrote to Thomas, 77.

Upholding an earlier ruling, senior appeal judge Sir Geoffrey Vos concluded yesterday that “it was not necessary to publish half the contents of the letter”. But lawyers for Associated Newspapers Limited are considering a Supreme Court challenge in a case which they said “raises issues as to the duchess’s credibility”.

At one point, Meghan apologised to the court after admitting she had given misleading information about her dealings with writers. But in his judgment, Sir Geoffrey dismissed the U-turn and an “unfortunate lapse of memory”. The duchess said yesterday her “precedent-setting” win would “reshape a tabloid industry that conditions people to be cruel”.

She added: “This is a victory not just for me, but for anyone who has ever felt scared to stand up for what’s right. In the nearly three years since this began, I have been patient in the face of deception, intimidation and calculated attacks.

“The courts have held the defendant to account and my hope is we all begin to do the same.mBecause as far removed as it may seem from your personal life, it’s not. Tomorrow it could be you. These harmful practices don’t happen once in a blue moon – they are a daily fail that divide us and we all deserve better.”

Yesterday’s decision blocked a challenge by the newspaper group to the High Court’s ruling that Meghan’s privacy had been breached. During its Court of Appeal challenge last month, the company claimed Thomas wanted to contest remarks made by Meghan’s friends to US magazine People.

The court heard she accepted she had misled it by claiming in earlier statements she had not co-operated with writers. Her former aide Jason Knauf said he had, on her behalf, briefed the authors for Finding Freedom.

Mr Knauf said Meghan had written the letter to her father with the understanding it could be leaked. But dismissing the newspaper’s demand for a full trial, Sir Geoffrey said the duchess’s apology was “an unfortunate lapse of memory.” He added: “It does not seem to bear on the issues raised in the grounds of appeal. Whilst it might have been proportionate to publish a very small part of the letter for that purpose, it was not necessary to publish half the contents.” He dismissed the newspaper group’s demands for a full trial of the facts, saying the issues in Meghan’s case were clear cut and no further evidence would have “altered the situation”.

The company said: “That judgment should be given only on the basis of evidence tested at trial, and not on a summary basis in a heavily contested case, before even disclosure of documents. No evidence has been tested in cross-examination, as it should be, especially when Mr Knauf’s evidence raises issues as to the duchess’ credibility. After People magazine published an attack on Mr Markle, based on false briefings from the duchess’s friends wrongly describing the letter as a loving letter, it was important to show that the letter was no such thing.”

Matthew Dando, a partner at law firm Wiggin LLP, said: “This is a troubling judgment which has very concerning consequences for freedom of expression. By preventing key evidence being heard regarding the preparation of the duchess’s letter and its intended audience, the Court of Appeal has presumptively elevated the duchess’s privacy rights over matters of public interest. This decision heightens concerns that privacy laws permit public figures selectively to determine what can be reported about them and manipulate the media narrative. It also sets a dangerous precedent that anyone arguing against that status quo may not even be entitled properly to test the claimant’s evidence in court.”

Meghan Markle

Meghan Markle claimed Associated Newspapers Limited breached her privacy (Image: PA)

THIS was a victory for the rich and powerful who can afford expensive lawyers to take on their cases.

But for poorer people – like Meghan’s father Thomas – there is limited scope for redress when his reputation is traduced by “friends” of his ingrate daughter in a mass-selling US magazine.

In many families and cultures respect for elders and gratitude to parents is hard-wired.

People are still aghast that Harry and Meghan could have treated the Royal Family so badly – and then they look at Thomas Markle and wonder what went so badly wrong. Even the judges included a comment that the infamous letter at the heart of the court case was not a “loving” one but one “reprimanding Mr Markle for talking to the press”.

This is the same Mr Markle who had showered love on his youngest child and spent a fortune on her education.

But by the time of her elevated wedding, he was relatively impoverished, in poor health and had undergone heart surgery.

Meghan claimed she wrote the letter to protect Harry from “constant berating” by the Royal Family over Thomas’s interactions with the media. The family had understandably asked: “Can’t she just go and see him and make this stop?”

But the over-privileged, under-employed pair never found the time for a flight to Los Angeles to see Thomas and build a better relationship – and so the letter was sent instead.

Meghan won her battle with the Mail on Sunday, but in the court of public opinion she may not come out so well.

Source: EXPRESS CO UK

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