ITV News Royal Editor Chris Ship explains the latest results in the legal saga, and whether the story could continue
The publisher of the Mail on Sunday has said it is considering an appeal to the Supreme Court after it lost the latest stage of a privacy battle with the Duchess of Sussex over a letter to her estranged father.
Meghan welcomed her latest victory in her fight with Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL), also the publisher of MailOnline, on Tuesday over five articles that reproduced parts of a “personal and private” letter to Thomas Markle, 77, in August 2018, claiming "we all deserve better".
But ANL said new evidence brought forward by Jason Knauf, former communications secretary to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, had raised "issues as to the duchess’ credibility".
How Meghan claimed the win on Thursday
The Duchess won her case earlier this year when a High Court judge ruled in her favour without a full trial.
However, ANL brought an appeal and, at a three-day hearing in November, argued the case should go to a trial on Meghan’s claims against the publisher – including breach of privacy and copyright.
In a ruling on Thursday, Sir Geoffrey Vos, Dame Victoria Sharp and Lord Justice Bean dismissed the appeal by Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL).
The publisher’s lawyers had argued that new evidence from Jason Knauf, former communications secretary to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, suggested Meghan wrote the letter with the understanding that it could be leaked.
ANL says evidence 'raises issues' around Meghan's 'credibility'
After the judgment was made public, Meghan accused ANL of treating the court case as a “game with no rules”.
The publisher hit back in a statement which said the evidence of Mr Knauf “raises issues as to the duchess’ credibility”.
The statement from ANL read: “We are very disappointed by the decision of the Court of Appeal.
“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, especially when Mr Knauf’s evidence raises issues as to the duchess’ credibility.
“After People magazine published an attack on Mr Markle, based on false briefings from the duchess’ friends wrongly describing the letter as a loving letter, it was important to show that the letter was no such thing.
“Both the letter and People magazine also seriously misrepresented the reasons for Mr Markle’s non-attendance at the royal wedding.
“The articles corrected these matters, and raised other issues of public interest including the reasons for the breakdown in the relationship between the Duchess and her father.
“We are considering an appeal to the Supreme Court.”
The content of the letter were 'personal' and 'private' the court ruled
Giving a summary of the Court of Appeal’s decision to dismiss Associated Newspapers’ appeal, Sir Geoffrey Vos said: “The Court of Appeal upheld the judge’s decision that the duchess had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the contents of the letter.
“Those contents were personal, private and not matters of legitimate public interest.
“The articles in the Mail on Sunday interfered with the duchess’ reasonable expectation of privacy and were not a justified or proportionate means of correcting inaccuracies about the letter.”
Reading a summary of their decision, Sir Geoffrey said: “It was hard to see what evidence could have been adduced at trial that would have altered the situation.
“The judge had been in as good a position as any trial judge to look at the article in People magazine, the letter and The Mail On Sunday articles to decide if publication of the contents of the letter was appropriate to rebut the allegations against Mr Markle.
“The judge had correctly decided that, whilst it might have been proportionate to publish a very small part of the letter for that purpose, it was not necessary to publish half the contents of the letter as ANL had done.”
Meghan took British tabloids to task in a statement after the ruling, saying it was "a victory not just for me, but for anyone who has ever felt scared to stand up for what’s right".
“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," she wrote.
ITV News Royal Editor Chris Ship explains the significance of the win
“From day one, I have treated this lawsuit as an important measure of right versus wrong. The defendant has treated it as a game with no rules.
“The longer they dragged it out, the more they could twist facts and manipulate the public (even during the appeal itself), making a straightforward case extraordinarily convoluted in order to generate more headlines and sell more newspapers — a model that rewards chaos above truth.
“In the nearly three years since this began, I have been patient in the face of deception, intimidation and calculated attacks.
“Today, the courts ruled in my favour — again — cementing that The Mail on Sunday, owned by Lord Jonathan Rothermere, has broken the law.”
The duchess’s statement continued: “The courts have held the defendant to account and my hope is that we all begin to do the same.
“Because as far removed as it may seem from your personal life, it’s not. Tomorrow it could be you.
“These harmful practices don’t happen once in a blue moon — they are a daily fail that divide us and we all deserve better.”
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Meghan’s barristers had argued that the letter was “deeply personal” and “self-evidently was intended to be kept private”.
In her written evidence, Meghan denied she thought it likely that her father would leak the letter, but “merely recognised that this was a possibility”.
Jason Knauf, former communications secretary to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, claimed in a witness statement that Meghan wrote the letter with the understanding that it could be leaked.
He said she sent him an early draft of the letter and had written: “Obviously everything I have drafted is with the understanding that it could be leaked so I have been meticulous in my word choice, but please do let me know if anything stands out for you as a liability.
In further texts released by the court, the Duchess can be seen expressing her frustration about the response of the royal family, describing them as “constantly berating” Harry.The Court of Appeal also heard that Mr
Knauf provided information to the authors of the biography Finding Freedom – Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand – leading to Meghan apologising for misleading the court about whether he had given information.