Harry’s original statement ‘unduly tendentious’ – Judge

A proposed statement from the Duke of Sussex due to be read in court following the settlement of his libel claim was criticised by a judge for being “unduly tendentious”.

Harry has accepted an apology and substantial damages from Associated Newspapers Ltd, the publisher of The Mail On Sunday and MailOnline, over “baseless, false and defamatory” allegations he snubbed the Royal Marines after stepping down as a senior royal.

In a costs order, Mr Justice Nicklin warned the duke that the process of delivering a statement in open court was not a “platform for collateral attacks” and should not be “misused”.

The Duke of Sussex
The Duke of Sussex

A statement in open court allows the claimant to publicise the fact and terms of the settlement and, in defamation cases, “can serve a valuable function in publicising the claimant’s vindication”, the judge explained.

Harry’s original draft statement included criticisms of Associated Newspapers, which had to be removed or amended.

Mr Justice Nicklin said: “The claimant’s original draft statement in open court was unduly tendentious and it included criticisms of the defendant which have, by agreement, now been removed or amended.

“It could have achieved proper vindication – and generated less by way of dispute – if it had been proposed in terms that properly reflected the purposes of a statement in open court.”

The judge said: “As reports of statements in open court are protected by privilege, the court will not permit them to be misused.

“A claimant cannot seek to use a statement in open court as a platform for collateral attacks on the defendant(s) and/or other third parties.

“If a claimant wishes publicly to make such criticisms, then s/he will have to do so by means outside the statement in open court, for example by issuing a press release.”

Harry served in Afghanistan
Harry served in Afghanistan

Mr Justice Nicklin ordered Associated Newspapers to pay £2,500 of Harry’s costs for agreeing the wording of the statement in open court.

But the judge said the £35,000 originally sought by the duke for the application for a statement in open court was “manifestly disproportionate”, adding: “No litigant of ordinary means would reasonably consider spending such a sum on this exercise.”

In the actual statement read in court, Jenny Afia, representing the duke, outlined his commitment to the military and the inaccuracies of the story, and criticised the apology The Mail on Sunday printed in December.

“The baseless, false and defamatory stories published in The Mail on Sunday and on the website MailOnline constituted not only a personal attack upon the duke’s character but also wrongly brought into question his service to this country,” she added.

Harry’s relationship with the press has long been an acrimonious one.

Soon after he began dating American actress Meghan Markle, he attacked the media over its “abuse and harassment” of his girlfriend.

The Sussexes in South Africa
The Sussexes in South Africa

Kensington Palace warned on his behalf: “This is not a game – it is her life.”

In October 2019, the Sussexes overshadowed the end of their official tour to Africa by each bringing separate legal actions against parts of the press, with Meghan suing The Mail On Sunday over an alleged breach of privacy when it published a letter between her and her estranged father.

Harry released a scathing attack on the tabloids, in which he heavily criticised certain sections of the media for conducting what he called a “ruthless campaign” against his wife.

“I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces,” he said.

Harry was only 12 when Diana, Princess of Wales was killed in a crash after her car, driven at speed by a drunk chauffeur, was chased through the streets of Paris by the paparazzi.

After the Sussexes announced their bombshell plan to quit as senior royals, Harry described the media as a “powerful force” and said he wanted his family to have a “more peaceful” life.