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Meghan Markle urges tabloid shake-up after second privacy win

By James Pheby Published Dec 03, 2021 9:23 am

Meghan Markle on Thursday, Dec. 2, called for a reform of tabloid newspaper culture after winning a second court victory against a British newspaper group for breaching her privacy.

But Associated Newspapers indicated her high-profile win may not be the end of the matter, as it said it may now take the case to the country's highest court.

Three judges at the Court of Appeal in London threw out the news group's challenge to a February ruling in the High Court over the publication in 2019 in the Mail on Sunday of a letter she wrote to her estranged father.

The Duchess of Sussex, who is married to Queen Elizabeth II's grandson, Prince Harry, said she hoped the ruling would embolden others to hold tabloids to account.

"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 in a statement.

"While this win is precedent setting, 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."

Associated, which also publishes the Daily Mail and MailOnline, appealed the lower court ruling, arguing the judge should have only made his judgment after a full trial hearing.

The publisher had been ordered to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds in interim legal costs and to print a front-page statement acknowledging her legal victory.

But that was put on hold while the appeal was heard.

'Personal and private'

Associated said it was "very disappointed by the decision" and was considering an appeal to the Supreme Court.

"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.

"No evidence has been tested in cross-examination, as it should be," it added.

The three appeal judges agreed with the lower court judge that the contents of the letter were "personal, private, and not matters of legitimate public interest."

Judge Geoffrey Vos, the most senior civil judge in England and Wales, told court the Mail on Sunday articles "interfered with the duchess' reasonable expectation of privacy" and it was "hard to see" if a trial could have changed that.

He said the key point was that the articles "focused on revealing the contents of the letter" rather than providing Thomas Markle with a chance to respond to claims made about him in an article in US magazine People.

The articles "were splashed as a new public revelation of extracts from the duchess' letter to her father, rather than her father's answers to what People magazine had written", said Vos.

The original judge "had been right to decide that just one paragraph of the letter could have been justifiably deployed to rebut the allegation in People magazine," he added.

Lawyers for Associated had argued that Markle wrote the correspondence to her father knowing it was likely to be leaked, despite claiming the opposite.

The letter to her father was written in 2018 after her wedding and asked him to stop talking to tabloids and making false claims about her in interviews.

Biography controversy

Markle, 40, and Harry, 37, who now live in California after stepping down from frontline royal duties last year, have taken legal action against a number of publications, alleging invasion of privacy.

In its appeal, Associated Newspapers relied in part on new testimony from Markle's former communications adviser, Jason Knauf.

Last month, Markle apologized to the court after admitting she had allowed Knauf to brief the authors of a favorable biography of her short tenure as a frontline royal in Britain, despite previous denials on the matter.

The publishers submitted a witness statement from Knauf which outlined that he had provided information to the authors of the biography Finding Freedom.

The best-selling book was "discussed on a routine basis" and "directly with the duchess multiple times in person and over email," Knauf added.

In her own witness statement, Markle apologized for misleading the court, which judge Vos said was "at best, an unfortunate lapse of memory on her part." (AFP)