Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex has won her privacy breach claim and successfully held the Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL) accountable as a “comprehensive win for privacy and copyright” because the damage they do “runs deep”.
The 39-year-old also thanked her husband Britain’s Prince Harry for his support through the process, as a London High Court ruled in her favour involving articles in February 2019 that published extracts of a “personal and private” letter to her estranged father.
Justice Mark Warby granted a summary judgment as sought by the former actress’ legal team in the claim for misuse of private information against the publisher of the 'Mail on Sunday’ and ‘MailOnline’.
"The claimant had a reasonable expectation that the contents of the letter would remain private. The ‘Mail’ articles interfered with that reasonable expectation," the judge concluded.
“After two long years of pursuing litigation, I am grateful to the courts for holding Associated Newspapers and The Mail on Sunday to account for their illegal and dehumanizing practices,” said Markle in a statement after the judgment.
“For these outlets, it’s a game. For me and so many others, it’s real life, real relationships, and very real sadness. The damage they have done and continue to do runs deep,” she said.
Markle, who is now based in the US with husband Harry and infant son Archie, said in her statement that the judgment was a victory for all because everyone loses when “misinformation sells more than truth” and when companies create their business model to profit from “people’s pain”.
She added: “The world needs reliable, fact-checked, high-quality news... for today, with this comprehensive win on both privacy and copyright, we have all won. We now know, and hope it creates a legal precedent, that you cannot take somebody’s privacy and exploit it in a privacy case, as the defendant has blatantly done over the past two years. “I share this victory with each of you — because we all deserve justice and truth, and we all deserve better.”
The judge in his ruling had noted that the only “tenable justification” for the publication of extracts of the letter was to correct some inaccuracies about the letter, contained in an article in ‘People’ magazine which featured an interview with five friends of Markle.
But he added: "The inescapable conclusion is that, save to the very limited extent I have identified, the disclosures made were not a necessary or proportionate means of serving that purpose. For the most part they did not serve that purpose at all. Taken as a whole the disclosures were manifestly excessive and hence unlawful."
A spokesperson for ANL said: "We are very surprised by today's (Thursday) summary judgment and disappointed at being denied the chance to have all the evidence heard and tested in open court at a full trial. “We are carefully considering the judgment's contents and will decide in due course whether to lodge an appeal."
Markle had brought a case in the High Court in England of breach of copyright, infringement of her privacy, and breaches of the Data Protection Act over articles that showed parts of a letter she had written to her 76-year-old father Thomas Markle in August 2018.
Parts of the exchange between the father and daughter during a strained relationship were published in the newspaper and online in February 2019.
Last year, the High Court had ruled that the newspaper publishers could also include the book ‘Finding Freedom’, written about the royals, their relationship and their decision to step away as frontline British royals, as part of their defense – a decision Meghan's legal team had tried to get overturned.
Justice Warby has indicated the need for a further hearing in March to decide "the next steps" in the legal action.
With inputs from PTI