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Meghan Markle has won a major legal victory against the publisher of a British tabloid after it published extracts of a letter that she sent to her estranged father, Thomas Markle.
On Thursday, Feb. 11, a U.K. High Court judge granted the Duchess of Sussex "summary judgment" in her claim for misuse of private information against the company, Associated Newspapers, over the publication of the 2018 letter in its outlet The Mail on Sunday. He wrote that she "had a reasonable expectation that the contents of the Letter would remain private. The Mail Articles interfered with that reasonable expectation."
"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," the duchess said in a statement. "These tactics (and those of their sister publications MailOnline and The Daily Mail) are not new; in fact, they've been going on for far too long without consequence. 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."
The duchess sued Associated Newspapers in 2019 after its Mail on Sunday newspaper and MailOnline website published extracts of a five-page, handwritten letter that she had sent to her estranged father a year earlier, shortly after her and Prince Harry's royal wedding, which Thomas did not attend due to illness.
In January 2020, lawyers for the publisher claimed in court documents that the duchess "knew that her father had spoken to the media previously about their relationship and was continuing to do so" and "therefore knew that it was possible or even likely that he would disclose the contents of the letter to third parties or the media." The Associated Newspapers attorneys also noted Meghan's "immaculate" penmanship, stating, "It is to be inferred also from the care [she] took over the presentation of the letter that she anticipated it being disclosed to and read by third parties."
"We are very surprised by today's summary judgment and disappointed at being denied the chance to have all the evidence heard and tested in open court at a full trial," an Associated Newspapers spokesperson said in a statement on Thursday following the court ruling. "We are carefully considering the judgment's contents and will decide in due course whether to lodge an appeal."
The publisher's lawyers had also pointed out in their defense at last year's hearing that the letter's publication followed a 2019 People magazine article that featured an interview with one of Meghan's "close friends," who mentioned the letter. The interview, the attorneys argued, "depicted Mr. Markle as having acted unreasonably and unlovingly, having cold-shouldered his daughter, and being solely to blame for the estrangement between father and daughter. This was a one-sided and/or misleading and false narrative."
In his ruling on Thursday, the High Court judge wrote, "The only tenable justification for any such interference was to correct some inaccuracies about the letter contained in the People Article. On an objective review of the articles in the light of the surrounding circumstances, the inescapable conclusion is that, save to a very limited extent, 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."
Thomas, who was not a defendant in the case, had personally maintained that he made the letter public to defend himself after the magazine article was released. This past January, he wrote in a witness statement to the High Court that the magazine piece "had given an inaccurate picture of the contents of the letter and my reply and had vilified" him. He said, "If the public didn't see the letter and read what it said in its own words, I did not think anyone would believe me."
This marked the biggest legal victory against the press for Meghan and Harry, who stepped down from their roles as senior members of the royal family last spring. The legal case came amid the Duke of Sussex's scathing fall 2019 statement against the British tabloids. At the time, he slammed what he called their "ruthless" campaign against his wife, who has been the target of much negative press coverage since she and Harry began their relationship in 2016 and especially after she began pregnant with their now-21-month-old son, Archie Harrison.
The couple's lawyer also stated at the time that the duke and duchess had initiated legal proceedings against Associated Newspapers, that the case was being privately funded by Harry and Meghan and that any proceeds from any damages would be donated to an anti-bullying charity. Meghan had sought damages for misuse of private information, copyright infringement and breach of the Data Protection Act of 2018.
In his ruling, the judge wrote that some issues regarding copyright ownership of the letter should be settled in a trial. "The defense argues that a trial might show that the works are works of joint authorship or that there are several copyrights with different ownership. It relies on admissions by the claimant, hearsay evidence, and a solicitors' letter, to suggest that the involvement of staff on the Kensington Palace communications team...may have generated a copyright that does not belong exclusively to the claimant and may be Crown copyright," the ruling stated. A hearing over the matter has been set for March 2.
In her statement on Thursday following the court ruling, Meghan said that the Associated Newspaper' "tactics" have "been going on for far too long without consequence." She added, "The damage they have done and continue to do runs deep."
"The world needs reliable, fact-checked, high-quality news," she wrote, later adding, "We all lose when misinformation sells more than truth, when moral exploitation sells more than decency, and when companies create their business model to profit from people's pain. But for today, with this comprehensive win on both privacy and copyright, we have all won. We now know, and hope it creates 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."
Meghan continued, "I share this victory with each of you—because we all deserve justice and truth, and we all deserve better."