Prince Harry wins latest round of High Court legal battle with Sun

Prince Harry at the High Court last year
Prince Harry at the High Court last year. He is involved in an ongoing battle with the publisher of the Sun newspaper - Geoff Pugh

Prince Harry has won the latest skirmish in his legal battle with the publisher of The Sun after the High Court rejected an application to delay a trial, insisting it should go ahead as planned next January

News Group Newspapers (NGN) had applied to push back the trial for alleged unlawful information gathering in order to allow the court to determine whether the claims, by the Duke of Sussex and 41 others, were brought too late.

But Mr Justice Fancourt said that to do so would likely push the full trial back another two years, incurring significant extra cost in what has already proved to be “very expensive litigation”.

“I consider there are too few advantages at this stage to abandoning the orderly preparation of a trial on all issues to instead have a trial on only one issue,” he told the court.

He said the January 2025 trial date had been set in November 2022 and that NGN had left it too late to raise an objection.

“It would be quite a serious thing to overturn at such a late stage,” he said, noting that all existing parties had “been working for years” on the case.

The judge said a large amount of preparation had already been done “at considerable expense” with a view to all issues being tried in 2025.

‘Impossible’ legal costs

Mr Justice Fancourt also said that there was a “high risk” that both sides would fall out over the selection of claimants to be involved in a trial on a preliminary issue, which would prove “rather labour intensive”.

NGN’s lawyers had argued that it was the “most efficient” way of dealing with cases and could “promote” settlements.

David Sherborne, for the Duke and others, argued that a preliminary trial would be “pointless” and made “no sense at all”.

He told the judge: “This application is plainly tactical.”

Regardless, Mr Sherborne admitted earlier this week that the Duke might be forced to settle his claim because of “impossible” legal costs.

It came after fellow claimant Hugh Grant revealed he had settled with NGN for an “enormous sum” as he could not risk being saddled with an estimated £10 million legal bill.

In 2021, Sienna Miller, an actress, also settled her own case against the publisher, which her lawyers said at the time was because of the risk of having to pay millions of pounds in legal fees even if she won.

Mr Sherborne told the court on Wednesday: “The Duke of Sussex is subject to the same issues that Sienna Miller and Hugh Grant have been subject to, which is that offers are made [which] make it impossible for them to go ahead.”

Grant claimed that he was targeted by journalists and private investigators working for The Sun, “including burglaries to order, the breaking and entering of private property in order to obtain private information through bugging, landline tapping, phone hacking”.

But he said he had been forced to settle because the rules of civil litigation meant that if he was awarded damages “even a penny less” than the settlement offer, he would be liable for the legal costs of both sides.

“As is common with entirely innocent people, they are offering me an enormous sum of money to keep this matter out of court,” Grant wrote in a lengthy explanation on X, formally Twitter.

“I don’t want to accept this money or settle. I would love to see all the allegations that they deny tested in court … Rupert Murdoch’s lawyers are very expensive. So even if every allegation is proven in court, I would still be liable for something approaching £10 million in costs. I’m afraid I am shying at that fence.”

The actor vowed to donate the money to groups such as Hacked Off “to expose the worst excesses of our oligarch-owned press”.

The Duke is awaiting a ruling on whether he can extend the parameters of his own claim by incorporating allegations dating back as far as 1994 and stretching until 2016, rather than the current 1996 until 2011.