By ZOE MAGEE, ABC News
(LONDON) — Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, has been dealt a new blow in her legal battle with Associated Newspapers Ltd., the publishers of the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday.
Judge Francesca Kaye ruled in the High Court Tuesday that Associated Newspapers could amend their argument against the duchess and include as evidence Finding Freedom, a book about her and Prince Harry’s departure from official royal duties co-authored by Carolyn Durand and Omid Scobie.
Durand is a former producer at ABC News, and Scobie is currently an ABC News royal contributor.
Responding to Tuesday’s ruling, the duchess’ legal team issued a strongly worded statement saying they have “no doubt” the newspaper’s new defense “will fail.”
“We were prepared for this potential outcome given the low threshold to amend a pleading for a privacy and copyright case,” the legal team said in the statement, adding that the publishers are using the court case to “exploit The duchess’s privacy and the privacy of those around her for profit-motivated clickbait rather than journalism.”
“As a reminder, it is The Mail on Sunday and Associated Newspapers who acted unlawfully and are the ones on trial, not The Duchess of Sussex, although they would like their readers to believe otherwise,” they concluded in the statement.
Associated Newspapers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Meghan is suing Associated Newspapers for alleged copyright infringement, misuse of private information and breach of the Data Protection Act after the Mail on Sunday and the Mail Online published parts of a handwritten letter she had sent to Thomas Markle in August 2018.
The letter, which addressed the breakdown in relations between Meghan and her now estranged father, was reproduced by Associated Newspapers in five articles in February 2019.
Associated Newspapers’ lawyers had argued last week that Finding Freedom should be included in their defense as it shows that by “giving or permitting them [Scobie and Durand] to be given a great deal of other information about her [Meghan’s] personal life, in order to set out her own version of events in a way that is favourable to her” the duchess “was using her friends as, effectively, PR agents” to “influence the media.”
Anthony White, Queen’s Counsel, contended that the duchess had either herself or through her friends given the authors information about the letter she had written to her father around which her case centers and “cannot claim that she reasonably expected the existence or contents of the Letter to be private.”
In last week’s hearing, Meghan’s barrister, Justin Rushbrooke, Queen’s Counsel, strongly pushed against having the amended argument included in the case, calling it “bad in law” and “riddled with factual inaccuracies.”
Discussing the inclusion of portions of the letter in the book, her lawyers said, “The proposition that by causing or permitting such information to be published in a Book the Claimant had forfeited her right to privacy in respect of the highly sensitive contents of the Letter should not be one that the Court takes seriously.”
Rushbrooke stressed that neither the duke nor the duchess had collaborated with the authors of the book, echoing a statement the couple had issued in July shortly before the book was published.
This stance was corroborated by one of the authors, Scobie, who gave a witness statement to the court last week, writing, “Any suggestion that the duke and duchess collaborated on the book is false. They did not authorise the book and have never been interviewed for it.”
Associated Newspapers’ lawyers have said they would like to cross examine Scobie.
“This judgement is undoubtedly a blow to Meghan in what is turning out to be a very drawn out and costly legal battle,” said ABC News royal contributor Victoria Murphy. “As well as allowing the publisher to make the case that the book is relevant, it opens the door to Meghan and others being questioned about a wide range of their communications, allowing for a lot of information to be put into the public domain.”
Rushbrooke’s request to appeal the decision was denied by the judge Tuesday, but he could still take it to the Court of Appeal.
This is the third pretrial judgment since the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced the lawsuit against the tabloids’ publisher last October. Two have gone in Associated Newspapers favor and one in Meghan’s.
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