Meghan Markle scored a stunning—and perhaps final—victory in her long-running legal action against the publishers of the Daily Mail, the Mail on Sunday, and Mail Online today, after a judge dismissed an appeal by publishers Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL) against her.
In a statement, Markle criticized the “harmful practices” of tabloids as “a daily fail that divide us.”
“This is a victory not just for me, but for anyone who has ever felt scared to stand up for what’s right,” she said.
The duchess called on people to be “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 accused ANL of dragging the trial out and attempting to “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 added: “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.”
Hours after the judgment came down, ANL disputed the decision and said it was considering further legal action regarding its publication of a letter between Prince Harry’s wife and her father, Thomas Markle.
“We are very disappointed by the decision of the Court of Appeal. It is our strong view 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,” the company said in a statement. “No evidence has been tested in cross-examination, as it should be, especially when Mr. Knauf’s evidence raises issues as to the duchess’s 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,” the statement continued. “Both the letter and People magazine also seriously misrepresented the reasons for Mr Markle’s non-attendance at the royal wedding. The articles corrected these matters, and raised other issues of public interest including the reasons for the breakdown in the relationship between the duchess and her father.
“We are considering an appeal to the Supreme Court in the United Kingdom.”
Meghan was suing ANL for invasion of privacy and violating her copyright after ANL published extensive sections of a “deeply personal” hand-written letter she sent to her estranged father shortly after her wedding to Harry.
Earlier this year, a senior judge, Lord Justice Warby, who is highly experienced in media law, granted Meghan a “summary judgment.”
This meant that he had unilaterally decided there was absolutely no prospect of ANL succeeding in its attempt to defend itself against Meghan’s action, and was therefore calling a halt to proceedings in Meghan’s favor, without proceeding to a full trial.
ANL was appealing this decision, saying that the case at least deserved to be tried in court.
However its argument was soundly rejected by the Court of Appeal today, despite the fact that ANL introduced dramatic new evidence: a witness statement from Meghan’s former communications chief Jason Knauf, showing that Meghan had briefed the authors of the book Finding Freedom, something she had long denied.
Meghan was forced to admit to the court that she had “forgotten” sending Knauf a lengthy email equipping him with specific briefing points for the authors, Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand.
However the presiding judge, Sir Geoffrey Vos, Master of the Rolls, said “This was, at best, an unfortunate lapse of memory on her part, but did not bear on the issues.”
Knauf also provided more damaging evidence against Meghan, including a set of messages from her, which stated that she had addressed the letter to “Daddy,” specifically so that if her father did leak it, it would “pull at the heart strings.”
ANL said this new evidence showed that Meghan had written the letter in consultation with her press office, and with the expectation it would leak, and that she therefore should have had a different expectation of privacy around it than another private letter.
However, Vos dismissed this, saying the new evidence was “of little assistance” to the matter in hand.
ANL also argued that Meghan herself had caused the letter to be put in the public domain when five of her friends gave an interview to People magazine in which they mentioned the letter, characterizing it, ANL said, incorrectly.
ANL said it was merely offering Thomas Markle a right to reply and correct the record.
The judge blew this claim out of the water, saying the publication was “not a justified or proportionate means of correcting inaccuracies about the letter contained in an article published on 6 February 2019 in People magazine. The key point was that the Mail on Sunday articles focused on revealing the contents of the letter, rather than providing Mr Markle’s response to the attack on him in People magazine."
Vos added that the Mail’s headline: “Revealed: The letter showing true tragedy of Meghan’s rift with a father she says has ‘broken her heart into a million pieces’” clearly showed “that the Mail on Sunday articles were splashed as a new public revelation of extracts from the Duchess’s letter to her father, rather than her father’s answers to what People magazine had written.”
Meghan denied she had authorized the friends to speak to People or that she had intended the letter to leak, merely arguing that she understood it might and wanted to be prepared for that eventuality.
Vos concluded: “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 of the letter as Associated Newspapers had done.”
Meghan’s thumping victory today could finally draw a final line under the case, and banish the humiliating prospect of her being cross-examined in open court.