The identities of five friends of Meghan, who anonymously spoke to a US tabloid magazine to defend the Duchess of Sussex against criticism, will not be revealed.
In a ruling on Wednesday, Mr Justice Warby said he had concluded that “for the time being at least” the Duchess should be granted an order which protects the identities of the five individuals.
At a preliminary hearing in London last week, Meghan’s lawyers argued that the friends – referred to as A to E – have a right to anonymity both as confidential journalistic sources and under their own privacy rights.
In the People article, published in February last year, the friends spoke out against the bullying Meghan said she has faced.
So far, they have only been identified in confidential court documents.
Justin Rushbrooke QC, representing the Duchess, said in written submissions to the court: “To force the claimant, as the defendant urges this court to do, to disclose their identities to the public at this stage would be to exact an unacceptably high price for pursuing her claim for invasion of privacy against the defendant in respect of its disclosure of the letter.
The Duchess, 39, says her friends gave the interview without her knowledge, and denies a claim made by Mail on Sunday and MailOnline publisher, Associated Newspapers (ANL) that she “caused or permitted” the People article to be published.
In written submissions, Antony White QC, acting for ANL, said the friends are “important potential witnesses on a key issue”.
“Reporting these matters without referring to names would be a heavy curtailment of the media’s and the defendant’s entitlement to report this case and the public’s right to know about it,” he said.
Mr White said the order sought by the Duchess’s lawyers would leave Meghan entitled to disclose the identities to anyone – including the media – who could publish it, while ANL’s titles would remain barred from doing so.
Meghan is suing ANL over five articles in total – two in the Mail on Sunday and three on MailOnline – which were published in February 2019 and reproduced parts of a handwritten letter she sent to her father, Thomas Markle in August 2018.
The Duchess is seeking damages from ANL for alleged misuse of private information, copyright infringement and breach of the Data Protection Act.
ANL wholly denies the allegations, particularly the Duchess’s claim that the letter was edited in any way that changed its meaning, and says it will hotly contest the case.
However, ANL won the first hurdle in the legal action on May 1, when Mr Justice Warby struck out parts of Meghan’s claim, including allegations that the publisher acted “dishonestly” by leaving out certain passages of the letter.
Court papers show Meghan has agreed to pay ANL’s £67,888 costs for that hearing in full.