Trial of Duchess of Sussex’s privacy claim against Mail on Sunday postponed

A planned trial of the Duchess of Sussex’s privacy action against the Mail on Sunday over the publication of a letter to her estranged father has been postponed for a “confidential” reason.

Meghan, 39, is suing Associated Newspapers Ltd (ANL), publisher of the Mail On Sunday and MailOnline, over an article which reproduced parts of the handwritten letter sent to 76-year-old Thomas Markle in August 2018.

At a High Court hearing in London on Thursday, attended remotely by lawyers and members of the press, Mr Justice Warby agreed to adjourn the trial – which was due to start on January 11 next year – until the autumn following an earlier private hearing.

The judge said the private hearing was necessary to protect “the confidentiality of the information relied on” by Meghan in her application to postpone the trial.

The confidential information was said by the judge to be the “primary” reason for the duchess wanting the trial to be adjourned – and her application was not opposed by ANL.

However, ANL’s lawyers did ask the judge to consider Mr Markle’s situation, saying he is “elderly and sick” and wants and intends to give evidence at trial.

The judge said other reasons put forward by the duchess’s legal team in support of the postponement included Meghan’s application for summary judgment – a legal step which would see the case resolved without a trial.

Duchess of Sussex
Duchess of Sussex

She is also challenging another judge’s ruling which allowed ANL to rely on an unauthorised biography of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, called Finding Freedom, in its defence of the claim.

Granting the application to adjourn the trial, Mr Justice Warby said: “The right decision in all the circumstances is to grant the application to adjourn.

“That means that the trial date of January 11 2021 will be vacated and the trial will be re-fixed for a new date in the autumn.”

A costs and case management hearing, before Judge Francesca Kaye, will take place on Thursday afternoon.

Sections of the letter to Mr Markle were published in the newspaper and online in February last year, and it was announced the duchess would be bringing legal action in October.

The headline on the article read: “Revealed: The letter showing true tragedy of Meghan’s rift with a father she says has ‘broken her heart into a million pieces’.”

The duchess is seeking damages from ANL, the newspaper’s publisher and operator of the website, 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 the letter was edited in any way that changed its meaning, and says it will hotly contest the case.

Meghan is suing Associated Newspapers over five articles, two in the Mail On Sunday and three on MailOnline, which were published in February 2019.