Prince Andrew's lawyer says sexual assault allegations are 'baseless'
ITV News Royal Editor Chris Ship reports on the latest developments regarding the case
Lawyers for the Duke of York have called the sexual assault lawsuit "baseless" and unlawful" and say they will contest the serving of papers on Prince Andrew, a technical argument which could slow the case down.
“We believe this is a baseless, unviable and potentially unlawful lawsuit that the plaintiff has filed against the duke,” Andrew B Brettler told the court.
At a pre-trial hearing, Mr Brettler, for the duke, also said Ms Giuffre has previously entered into a settlement agreement “releasing the duke and others from any and all potential liability”.
He told the US district court for the southern district of New York that Andrew’s lawyers have “significant concerns about the propriety of this lawsuit”.
Virginia Giuffre claims she was trafficked by Andrew’s former friend, and convicted sex offender, Jeffrey Epstein, to have sex with the duke, when she was aged 17 and a minor under US law.
Mr Brettler was apparently appointed at the last moment after Ms Giuffre’s legal team accused Andrew’s lawyers of having “stonewalled” their attempts to get them to engage with the case.
The attorney has carved out a successful career defending allegations arising from the #MeToo movement.
Judge Lewis A Kaplan repeatedly sought to limit the scope of the hearing to whether or not the duke had been properly served notice of the case, and what action the court needs to take to ensure the legal papers reach him.
"I have a foreign national who is being sued in the United States court and is taking the position that he hasn't been served", he said.
David Boies, representing Ms Giuffre, said that the complaint had been “delivered to the last known address of the defendant”, he added that the documents had also been sent “by Royal Mail”.
Mr Boies said: “We believe we have complied with the service requirement and we filed proof of service last Friday.”
He said he expected Andrew to challenge the claim that notice of the case has been properly served on him.
Mr Brettler said that the duke’s team contested “the validity of service to date”, adding he has not been properly served under either UK or international law.
He said that it could be up to the High Court in London to decide whether the case can proceed.
The alleged settlement agreement cited by Mr Brettler is currently sealed under the order of a different judge, the court heard.
Mr Boies said it was “inconsistent” to be making discovery requests for documents when the case still hinges on whether or not the duke has been properly served notice of the proceedings, and whether the US courts have jurisdiction over the case.
He added that if the duke does choose to engage with proceedings and make a formal request for documents, Ms Giuffre’s legal team would respond “very promptly”.
Mr Brettler said that he believed the document “absolves our client from any and all liability”, adding other defendants had avoided similar proceedings by relying on its existence.
Judge Kaplan listed the case for a further hearing in-person at 3pm UK time on October 17.
He recommended both sides discuss the service of the case ahead of the next hearing in order to get to the “substance” of the claim.
“I can see a lot of legal fees being spent and time being expended and delay, which ultimately may not be productive for anyone,” he said.
Lawyer Debra Opri told ITV News: "Prince Andrew's attorney's are properly asserting a bad service position. You have to, because they need to buy time, and buying time right now is what Prince Andrew needs. But he will get served, even if it's not tonight, he's going to get served".
Ms Giuffre is seeking unspecified damages, but there is speculation the sum could be in the millions of dollars.
The duke does not face the prospect of an extradition hearing as this only applies to criminal charges and not civil cases.
In court documents filed on Friday, Ms Giuffre’s lawyers stated there was a first attempt to serve the papers on the duke on August 26, when an agent went to Windsor Great Park.
They state that a Metropolitan Police officer, who was the head of security, told the agent officers were not able to accept service of any court process, or let anyone trying to serve legal papers on to the property.
The agent returned the next day and was told the court process could be left with the police officer at the main gate “and that this matter would then be forwarded on to the legal team”.
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Andrew has stepped back from public duties amid the fallout from his relationship with Epstein.
It came after a 2019 Newsnight interview which saw him attempt to draw a line under his relationship with Epstein, who died in prison two years ago, but it ended up being dubbed a “car crash”.
During the programme he denied claims that he slept with Ms Giuffre on three separate occasions, saying: “I can absolutely categorically tell you it never happened.
“I have no recollection of ever meeting this lady, none whatsoever".
According to The Daily Mail, he was last seen arriving at the Queen’s Scottish retreat of Balmoral Castle in August and was thought to have been accompanied by his ex-wife Sarah, Duchess of York.
Lawyers for Ms Giuffre filed the civil suit against the duke citing allegations of battery by sexual assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress.