Meghan Markle Faces Fresh Challenge Over Her Letter to Her Father as Publisher’s Appeal Begins

In February of this year, the Duchess of Sussex won a high-profile privacy and copyright case against the publishers of the Mail on Sunday after they published parts of a letter she wrote to her father. However, the newspaper group has now launched an appeal, and a hearing was held today in which the publisher’s lawyers said they wanted to use “new evidence” to challenge Meghan’s case.

Associated Newspapers Limited’s lawyer Andrew Caldecott QC told the Civil Division of the Court of Appeal in London this morning that their position was that Meghan’s letter was “crafted specifically with the possibility of public consumption” because she “appreciated” her father “might disclose it to the media.” The lawyer also claimed that there was new evidence they wanted to rely on from Meghan’s former Communications Secretary Jason Knauf on the issue of her co-operation with the authors of the biography Finding Freedom.

However, in a written submission to the court, lawyers for the Duchess of Sussex requested that the appeal be dismissed. Describing the case as a “very straightforward case of mass media dissemination, for commercial gain, of a private and deeply personal letter from a daughter to her estranged father,” Meghan’s legal team accused the newspaper group of seeking to “muddy the waters, and to generate a proliferation of factual issues which it relies upon as justifying a trial.”

Standing before the court today, in a hearing which was streamed live online, Associated Newspaper’s lawyer Mr. Caldecott said, “We read the judgment as implicitly accepting that the letter was crafted as an intimate communication for her father’s eyes only. That is how the Claimant’s case was put before the judge, both in writing and aurally.”

He added, “That fundamental point turns out to be false on the new evidence. The letter was crafted specifically with the possibility of public consumption in mind because the Claimant appreciated Mr. Markle might disclose it to the media. That nuanced position was not before the judge.”

On the question of co-operation with the Finding Freedom authors, Mr. Caldecott claimed that Meghan had co-operated with the writers via Jason Knauf in Autumn and Winter 2018. “The Claimant expressly denied any such co-operation in her pleaded case with one minor exception,” he said. “That is now, we say, contradicted by the evidence of Mr. Knauf.”

The newspaper group is seeking permission from the court to introduce a recent witness statement from Mr. Knauf as evidence. Its lawyers are challenging the legal reasons for High Court Judge Lord Justice Warby’s initial summary judgement as well as the judge’s factual analysis. They argued today that the judge’s approach to “correction,” Mr. Markle’s “right of reply” following an article mentioning his letter in People magazine, and “the wider public interest” was “much too narrow and contrary to authority.”

In written submissions to the court, Associated Newspapers Ltd also outlined how it had “amended its case on appeal,” withdrawing the allegation that the letter was written “as part of a media strategy or that she then intended it to be made public.” “There is nothing opaque or grudging about the concession,” the written submission reads.

The court also heard reference to what appeared to be previously undisclosed text message exchanges between Meghan, Harry, and Thomas Markle ahead of the wedding, including one which Mr. Caldecott declined to read out from Prince Harry but he said was “obvious” would have “upset” Mr Markle.

When it was announced in February that Lord Justice Warby had found in Meghan’s favor in a summary judgement, she issued a statement saying how she was “grateful to the courts for holding Associated Newspapers and The Mail on Sunday to account for their illegal and dehumanizing practices.” She concluded: “I share this victory with each of you—because we all deserve justice and truth, and we all deserve better.” Justice Warby found that, on privacy, the “disclosures were manifestly excessive and hence unlawful.” On copyright he concluded that “There is no room for doubt that the defendant’s conduct involved an infringement of copyright in the Electronic Draft of which the claimant was the owner or, at worst, a co-owner.”

The appeal hearing will run until Thursday.

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