Editorial credit: s_bukley / Shutterstock.com


In the latest round of her claim against the publisher of the Mail on Sunday,Associated Newspapers, Meghan Markle has obtained orders protecting the identity of five friends who were anonymous sources for a favourable article about her in People magazine.

The Duchess of Sussex is suing Associated Newspapers over its publication of parts of a letter she wrote to her father, Thomas Markle, in August 2018.  As part of its defense, Associated claims that personal information about the Duchess entered the public domain because of the People article and argues this was “sought and intended” by the Duchess, which she disputes.

Associated had asked the Duchess for information about the identity of the friends and she subsequently gave the names to Associated, but asked the Court to anonymise the five friends.  Associated resisted on the basis that their identities were not private or confidential information.

The judge ruled that the five friends should be granted anonymity, because this upheld the agreement they had with People magazine and supported the proper administration of justice by shielding them from the “glare of publicity” in the pre-trial stage.

Having reviewed some of the media coverage, the judge commented on the “peculiarly febrile atmosphere surrounding this case, and some of the coverage”, which, he observed, “could act as a deterrent and undermine fairness and due process” by leading to witnesses facing undesirable pressure.

The judge made it clear that the anonymity of the five friends should be kept under review as the case progresses and emphasised that directions to trial must be given promptly after it had been slowed down by case management issues.

The decision makes interesting points about source protection, witness anonymity and open justice, but the case is highly unusual, and unlikely to be repeated.