Meghan Markle’s lawyers on Wednesday asked a London court judge to keep the names of five of her friends out of the public domain as she led a privacy breach battle against a UK newspaper.
Meghan’s lawyer said the friends, who defended her in anonymous magazine interviews last year, were innocent parties who feared intrusion if their names came out. The target of his lawsuit, Associated Newspapers Ltd., argues that the principle of open justice – the public’s right to know – means that friends must be identified.
The Duchess of Sussex is suing the editor of the Mail on Sunday newspaper and the MailOnline website of Britain’s High Court over five articles which published parts of a handwritten letter she wrote to her former father, Thomas Markle , after her marriage to Prince Harry in 2018..
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Meghan, 38, is seeking damages from the publisher for alleged misuse of private information, copyright infringement and data protection breaches. His lawyers say the letter’s publication was “a blatant and unwarranted intrusion into his private and family life.” Associated Newspapers has said it will strongly dispute this claim.
In a half-day preliminary hearing, Meghan’s lawyers asked Judge Mark Warby to ban the release of personal details of friends who spoke to People magazine in early 2019 to condemn the alleged harassment of the Duchess by the British press.
The names of the women are included in a confidential court document, but they have only been publicly identified from A to E.
Meghan’s attorney, Justin Rushbrooke, argued the court had a duty to “protect the identity of confidential journalistic sources”.
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He said that with the high-profile libel case yet to start, the court should be careful and protect “the innocent party who fears intrusion.”
But Mail attorney Antony White said the granting of anonymity would undermine the “vitally important principle of open justice.”
“Friends are important potential witnesses on a key issue,” White said in a written argument. He said the removal of their names “would be a sharp reduction in the right of the media and the accused to report this matter and the right of the public to know more.” . ”
Associated Newspapers said it was Meghan’s friends who put the letter to Thomas Markle into the public domain by describing it in the People article. He argues that the details of the letter in this article must come “directly or indirectly” from the Duchess.
But Rushbrooke said Meghan did not know at the time that her friends were talking to the magazine. He said the anonymous interviews were arranged by one of the five friends, who was concerned about media criticism of the Duchess, who was pregnant during the time of her first child.
In a witness statement presented in the case, the Duchess said that “each of these women is a private citizen, a young mother, and each has a fundamental right to privacy.”
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“These five women are not being judged, and neither am I,” she wrote. “The editor of the Mail on Sunday is the one on trial. It is this publisher who acted illegally and tries to escape responsibility; to create a circus and distract from the point of this matter – that the Mail on Sunday illegally published my private letter.
Meghan, the former star of the TV legal drama “Suits”, married Queen Elizabeth II’s grandson Harry in a lavish ceremony at Windsor Castle in May 2018. Their son Archie was born the following year.
In January, the couple announced they were stepping down as senior members of the royal family.
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Neither Harry nor Meghan appeared in court for Wednesday’s hearing. The judge said he would render his decision “as soon as possible”.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.