Meghan Markle’s legal team have successfully blocked the Mail On Sunday from naming five of her friends who spoke to the press last year.
Last month, the Duchess filed an application to block the newspaper from publishing the names of her five friends who spoke anonymously to People magazine last year.
The move was part of Meghan’s ongoing case against Associated Newspapers, the publisher of the UK Mail on Sunday, for printing a “private and confidential” letter to her estranged father Thomas Markle.
Press Association confirmed that Meghan’s bid was successful this morning by tweeting: “#Breaking The Duchess of Sussex has won a High Court bid to keep secret the identities of five friends who gave an anonymous interview to a US magazine, in the latest stage of her legal action against Associated Newspapers.”
#Breaking The Duchess of Sussex has won a High Court bid to keep secret the identities of five friends who gave an anonymous interview to a US magazine, in the latest stage of her legal action against Associated Newspapers
— PA Media (@PA) August 5, 2020
Mr Justice Warby upheld Meghan’s application, after her lawyers argued that their identities should remain a secret in court last week.
In his judgment, Mr Justice Warby said: “This is an unusual case, the roles are reversed. A newspaper publisher wishes to publish the identity of the five sources. The claimant is opposing this, maintaining that the sources are confidential and provided information that appeared in People magazine.”
“The court orders that the identity of the five friends remain confidential in the interests of the administration of justice. This is an interim decision.”
He added: “I have also concluded that directions towards a trial must be given promptly. The case has been slowed down by case management issues. It should now move forward at a greater pace. Disclosure, inspection and exchange of witness statements comes next.”
The judge set a window of next January to April for when a trial could take place, lasting between five to seven days.
During a hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London last week, one of Meghan’s lawyers Justin Rushbrooke QC argued that her friends should be “owed” the same level of protection and anonymity journalists receive.
Speaking to Mr Justice Warby, the barrister said: “To disclose their identities to the public at this stage is an unacceptable price to pay for the right to pursue her claim for invasion of privacy.”
“The application raises quite a short but very important point… which is to what extent the court should protect the identity of confidential, journalistic sources who are not parties to the action, nor at this early stage can it be said that they are witnesses in the action.”
“We say at least four of the five sources have no real role at all on the issue raised by the defendant’s defence regarding the interview with People magazine in the US.”
In court, Associated Newspapers resisted Meghan’s application to keep the identities of her friends private.
In written submissions, ANL’s lawyer Antony White said: “The friends are important potential witnesses on a key issue.”
“Reporting these matters without referring to names would be a heavy curtailment of the media’s and the defendant’s entitlement to report this case and the public’s right to know about it.”
“No friend’s oral evidence could be fully and properly reported because full reporting might identify her, especially as there has already been media speculation as to their identities.”
In a witness statement earlier this month, Meghan said: “These five women are not on trial, and nor am I. The publisher of the Mail on Sunday is the one on trial.”
“It is this publisher that acted unlawfully and is attempting to evade accountability; to create a circus and distract from the point of this case – that the Mail on Sunday unlawfully published my private letter.”
“Each of these women is a private citizen, young mother, and each has a basic right to privacy,” she continued.
“Both the Mail on Sunday and the court system have their names on a confidential schedule, but for the Mail on Sunday to expose them in the public domain for no reason other than clickbait and commercial gain is vicious and poses a threat to their emotional and mental wellbeing.”
Meghan is suing Associated Newspapers, the publisher of the UK Mail on Sunday, for printing a “private and confidential” letter she sent her estranged father Thomas Markle in 2018.
Meghan’s father received the letter in August 2018, months before sections of it were published in the UK Mail on Sunday and on the MailOnline in February, 2019.
The mother-of-one is seeking damages from Associated Newspapers Ltd for alleged misuse of private information, copyright infringement and breach of the Data Protection Act.
However, Associated Newspapers have defended the letter’s publication by suggesting Meghan put it in the public domain by allegedly telling friends about it – who later spoke to People magazine.
However, the Duchess has insisted she was unaware that five close friends were planning to speak to People magazine about her strained relationship with Thomas, for an article published in February 2019.
The People magazine article, which was published on February 18, 2019, referred to letters exchanged between Meghan and her father Thomas.
The five friends requested anonymity at the time of their interview, in order to protect their private relationships.
Meghan’s legal battle against the publisher officially kicked off at the end of April as the first High Court hearing took place via video link – due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The virtual High Court hearing was a stepping stone to a potential full trial in late 2020 or early 2021.
During the hearing, Meghan’s barrister David Sherborne, who previously acted as Princess Diana’s lawyer, confirmed she’s willing to give evidence in court – if the case eventually goes to trial.
He said: “The defendant [Associated Newspapers] wants to cross-examine her [Meghan] as to whether that belief is reasonable or not – and they can do that.”
This means Meghan could come face-to-face with her estranged father, who is reportedly prepared to give evidence against his daughter in court.
Thomas Markle previously said he felt pressured to share the letter with the press, after it’s contents were allegedly misrepresented in the People article.
The 76-year-old told The Mail On Sunday: “I have to defend myself. I only released parts of the letter because other parts were so painful. The letter didn’t seem loving to me. I found it hurtful.”
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