British judge: Friends of Duchess of Sussex may remain anonymous in confidentiality case


LONDON – A UK judge ruled on Wednesday the Duchess of Sussex may keep the names of five close friends a secret while she files a privacy breach lawsuit against a UK newspaper – but he berated both sides in the case for playing their battle in the media as well as the courtroom. High Court Judge Mark Warby said: “I have concluded that, for the time being at least, the court should grant the applicant the order she seeks,” protecting the anonymity of friends who have defended Meghan in the pages of an American magazine.

Former Meghan Markle is suing the editor of the Mail on Sunday and the MailOnline website over five articles that published parts of a handwritten letter she wrote to her former father, Thomas Markle, after her marriage to Prince Harry in 2018.

Meghan, 39, seeks damages from publisher Associated Newspapers Ltd. for alleged misuse of private information, copyright infringement and data protection breaches.

The Duchess has asked the judge to ban the publication of details of the friends who spoke anonymously to People magazine to condemn the alleged bullying she had received from the media. She argued that the friends were not parties to the case and had a “fundamental right to privacy”.

The names of the women are included in a confidential court document, but they have only been publicly identified from A to E.

Associated Newspapers attorney Antony White told a court hearing last week that the friends were potential witnesses in the case and that keeping their names a secret “would be a big cut in media law and the defendant to report this matter and the public’s right to know it. ”

The judge acknowledged that he had to balance “the competing demands of confidentiality and open justice.”

Warby ruled in favor of anonymity, saying it would serve justice in protecting Meghan’s friends from “the publicity shine” in the preliminary stages of the case.

“In general, it does not help the interests of justice if those involved in a dispute are subject to or surrounded by a frenzy of publicity,” he said. “At trial, this is a price that may have to be paid in the interests of transparency. But it is not a necessary concomitant of the preliminary phase. ”

No date has been set for the full trial, which will likely be one of the most high-profile civil cases in the UK for years.

The judge said that in pre-trial bickering, each side had “exaggerated their cause” and made “hyperbolic claims” about the other.

“Neither side has so far been willing to limit the presentation of their case to the courtroom,” Warby said.

“Both sides have shown their readiness to assert the merits of their dispute in public, outside the courtroom, primarily in the media,” he said. “This approach to litigation has little to do with allowing the public to control the judicial process or improve the proper administration of justice. ”

Associated Newspapers, which disputes the Duchess’ privacy violation claim, claims it was Meghan’s friends who put the letter into the public domain by describing it in the People article. One of them told the magazine that the Duchess wrote: ‘Daddy, I’m so heartbroken. I love you. I have a father. Please stop victimizing me through the media so we can mend our relationship. ”

Lawyers for the publisher argue that information about the letter leaked in the article must have come “directly or indirectly” from Meghan.

But Meghan’s lawyer Justin Rusbrooke argued the Duchess didn’t know her friends were talking to the magazine. They say the anonymous interviews were arranged by one of the five friends, who was concerned about the toll of media criticism of the Duchess, then pregnant with her first child.

American actress Meghan Markle, star of the television legal drama “Suits”, married Harry, grandson of Queen Elizabeth II, in a lavish ceremony at Windsor Castle in May 2018. Their son, Archie, was born the next year.

In January, the couple announced they were stepping down from royal duties and moving to North America, citing what they said was unbearable intrusion and racist attitudes on the part of the British media. They are currently based in the Los Angeles area.


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