The credibility of Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, has been called into question as deliberations begin on an appeal hearing to determine whether a ruling in her favor against the publisher of the Mail on Sunday for privacy and copyright violation should be overturned.
New evidence presented by Associated Newspaper Limited (ANL) during the three-day hearing pressured Meghan into formally apologizing for unintentionally misleading the court about her past coordination with the media. The company’s lawyers seek to prove that the judge who made the initial ruling was denied key evidence.
Meghan first brought the lawsuit against ANL in 2019 after the Mail on Sunday and MailOnline published excerpts of a handwritten letter she sent her estranged father, Thomas Markle.
In February, High Court Lord Justice Warby ruled in her favor in a summary judgment, a decision that no trial is needed because the evidence is so overwhelming. Warby’s ruling said that ANL violated Meghan’s privacy by publishing parts of a “private and deeply personal” letter she wrote to her father. Warby also wrote in his decision that “there is no prospect that a different judgment would be reached after a trial."
The news group appealed for the right to present their case at trial, which Meghan’s lawyers deem an unnecessary further invasion of her privacy that would “[give] the defendant the opportunity to profit handsomely from the media circus that would inevitably result." Meghan has long maintained that the letter to her father was confidential and personal. The publisher’s lawyer Andrew Caldecott centered his arguments on Meghan’s expectations of privacy.
In the appeal hearing, Caldecott argued that a new witness statement from the Sussexes’ former communications secretary, Jason Knauf, proved that Meghan composed the letter “with readership by the public in mind,” and had a history of coordinating with members of the media to share private information — something Meghan swore under oath she had never done. Knauf provided the court with emails between himself and his former employer discussing what she wanted him to say in a secret discussion with two reporters who were writing what proved to be a very sympathetic biography of the Sussexes. The evidence forced Meghan to apologize to the court “for the fact that I had not remembered these exchanges,” as the duchess swore she “had no intention to mislead the defendant or the court.”
In his written statement to the court, Knauf said that in August 2018 Meghan sent him an early draft of her letter to her father, writing, “Obviously everything I have drafted is with the understanding that it could be leaked, so I have been meticulous in my word choice but please do let me know if anything stands out for you as a liability.”
Knauf said that the duchess asked for his advice on whether to address the letter to her father with “Daddy,” as “in the unfortunate event that it leaked it would pull at the heartstrings.” When she had finished writing the letter, Knauf said, Meghan told him, “If he leaks it then that’s on his conscience, but at least the world will know the truth. Words I could never voice publicly.”
During the lower court proceedings in September 2020, ANL argued that the fact that news of the letter’s existence and a summary of its contents were included in Finding Freedom, a sympathetic biography of the Sussexes published in August 2020, showed that Meghan had shared that information with the book’s authors and thus had violated her own privacy by putting that into the public domain. At the time, Meghan swore under oath that neither she nor her husband had coordinated with Finding Freedom’s authors, Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand.
However, in his statement to the court, Knauf said that he met with and provided information to the authors with both Harry and Meghan’s blessing. “The book was discussed directly with the Duchess multiple times in person and over email,” he said.
Alongside the statement, Caldecott submitted an email from Meghan to Knauf dated Dec. 10, 2018, wherein she sent him “briefing points” to share with the authors during their meeting.
In a witness statement made public Wednesday, Meghan said that she had forgotten about this exchange and had not found the email she sent Knauf when she searched her inbox for communications that could be relevant to the lawsuit. “In the light of the information and documents that Mr. Knauf has provided, I accept that Mr Knauf did provide some information to the authors for the book and that he did so with my knowledge, for a meeting that he planned for with the authors in his capacity as Communications Secretary,” she said, adding that “the extent of the information he shared is unknown to me.”
She said that at the time when she and her lawyers told the court they had no connection with Finding Freedom, “I did not have the benefit of seeing these emails and I apologise to the Court for the fact that I had not remembered these exchanges at the time. I had absolutely no intention to mislead the defendant or the Court.”
Meghan also noted in her statement that there was no mention of the letter in the briefing points she sent Knauf ahead of his meeting with the book’s authors. “Had I wanted to have my private letter shared in this book, as the defendant falsely claims, this clearly would have been an opportunity to do so,” she said.
The appeal was heard by a panel of three justices, who are expected to deliver a verdict within the next two weeks.
If the UK Court of Appeal rules in ANL’s favor, the case will be sent back to the lower courts for a full trial. If the Court upholds the ruling, ANL has the choice of either paying reparations and printing an apology to Meghan on the front pages of its newspapers or appealing to the Supreme Court.