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Appeal over Meghan’s letter to her father

The Court of Appeal this week heard the Mail on Sunday’s appeal in a case relating to a letter the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, had written to her father.

The Duchess sued Associated Newspapers Ltd, publishers of the Mail, over a 2018 article which published large parts of a handwritten letter she had sent to her father, after her wedding to Prince Harry. She sued in both privacy and copyright. The High Court agreed with her and granted summary judgment meaning that the case never went to a full trial.

The Mail are appealing that decision, saying that evidence needs to be heard before the court so that it can properly make a decision as to whether: (i) the Duchess had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the letter; (ii) its publication was a matter of public interest; and (iii) publication of parts of the letter represented Mr Markle’s right of reply to an article published in US magazine People which referred to the letter, and was a way of him correcting the narrative about him.

At the three-day hearing the Mail also sought permission to hear new evidence from former communications secretary to the Duke and Duchess, Jason Knauf. In his witness statement Knauf claimed that the Duchess wrote the letter knowing that it might be leaked and worded it carefully in case it was. She even discussed whether to address her father as “daddy”, not only because she called him that, but because it might pull at the heart strings if the letter was leaked.

His evidence also related to discussions between him and the authors of an unofficial biography of the Duke and Duchess entitled ‘Finding Freedom’. The couple have always denied cooperating with the writing of the book, but emails provided by Mr Knauf show the Duchess provided him with background information for his meeting with the authors. In a follow-up witness statement the Duchess apologised to the court for not referring to these emails in her earlier evidence, saying she had forgotten about them and never intended to mislead.

Lawyers for the Duchess maintained that Mr Knauf’s evidence did not undermine her case.  On the contrary, it was said on her behalf that she neither wanted nor intended for the letter to become public, but was simply aware of the possibility that it might.

The Duchess’ position was that the High Court had taken into account all relevant matters, was right to decide that the publication of the letter was ‘manifestly excessive and hence unlawful’, and there was no prospect that a different judgment would be reached after trial.

If the Mail is successful in its appeal, the case will go to a full trial, in which the Duchess of Sussex would likely be required to give evidence, something she is no doubt keen to avoid if possible.

The court will give its judgment at a later date.  zoom-in will report on developments as they arise.