A lawyer for Meghan Markle has accused a British newspaper publisher in court of commercially exploiting its legal dispute with her by using court documents as the basis for “sensational” coverage.
Meghan, wife of the Queen’s grandson Prince Harry, is suing Associated Newspapers about articles in the Mail on Sunday in February 2019 that included parts of a handwritten letter she sent to her estranged father, Thomas Markle, in August 2018.
Increasingly hostile relations between the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and some British newspapers they accused of intrusive, inaccurate and sometimes racist coverage have been cited as among the reasons for the former royals leaving Britain for the US.
Meghan’s lead counsel, Justin Rushbrooke, said that within hours of some legal papers being filed this month, the Mail used them as the basis for what he called a sensational article on its website, which “started a wildfire” of wider media coverage.
“Other litigants don’t make commercial fodder out of the other side’s pleadings,” he said.
A full trial on the Duchess’ lawsuit, in which she alleges the Mail invaded her privacy and infringed her copyright, is not expected until 2021 but the High Court has been dealing with side issues in pre-trial proceedings.
The question on Wednesday was whether the Mail should be allowed to publish the names of five friends of Meghan who gave anonymous interviews to the US magazine People for an article published about the letter a few days before the Mail‘s.
The Duchess of Sussex is seeking a court order preventing disclosure of the names.
Lawyers for Associated Newspapers argue such an order would breach the principle of open justice.
The People interviews are central to the defence.
The Mail has justified publishing Meghan’s letter on the basis that she had revealed its existence in People, via her friends, and that was what drove her father to disclose its contents.
The identities of the five are known to the Mail because they were named in a document filed to court by Meghan’s lawyers in July as part of the legal proceedings.
Associated Newspapers dispute that the document should be treated as confidential.
In her witness statement, Meghan said “for the Mail on Sunday to expose them (her friends) 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”.
She also accused the Mail of seeking to “create a circus and distract from the point of this case – that the Mail on Sunday unlawfully published my private letter”.
In written arguments in response, Associated Newspapers’ lawyers accused Meghan of using “extravagant and extreme language” to express an opinion not based on evidence.
It said the Mail had shown restraint by not publishing the names, even though there was no legal restriction preventing it from doing so.
Judge Mark Warby will give his ruling on whether the friends can be named at a later date.