Meghan, 39, sued the newspaper’s publisher, Associated Newspapers Ltd (ANL) over the publication of extracts of a letter she sent to her father, Thomas Markle.
She asked a High Court judge to deliver a summary judgment and hand her victory, arguing ANL had no defence to allegations that her private life had been invaded.
And today Lord Justice Warby agreed, ending the privacy claim with a victory for Meghan and avoiding the need for a bruising trial.
A secondary claim of copyright infringement was not totally dismissed, with a future hearing set for early March, and a third allegation around data protection is still live.
Today’s ruling means Meghan will likely not have to face off against her estranged father across a courtroom, and has been vindicated in her decision to take legal action against the media group.
The case centred on a letter sent by Meghan to Mr Markle in August 2018, shortly after her marriage to Prince Harry, in which she urged him to stop speaking to the media.
“It was, in short, a personal and private letter”, concluded Lord Judge Warby. “The majority of what was published was about the claimant’s own behaviour, her feelings of anguish about her father’s behaviour – as she saw it – and the resulting rift between them.
“These are inherently private and personal matters.”
Parts of the handwritten five-page letter were published in the Mail on Sunday and MailOnline in February 2019.
Meghan’s lawyers argued publication was “a triple-barrelled invasion of her privacy rights”, and said ANL did not have an effective defence to the claim.
Fighting against summary judgment on the privacy claim, ANL claimed the news articles were in the public interest and insisted some issues were “crying out” to be settled at trial. Part of the defence was the story helped to “set the record straight” for Mr Markle after a People magazine feature on Meghan.
Delivering the judgment today, the judge said Meghan “had a reasonable expectation that the contents of the letter would remain private.
“The Mail articles interfered with that reasonable expectation. The only tenable justification for any such interference was to correct some inaccuracies about the letter contained in the People article.
“On an objective review of the articles in the light of the surrounding circumstances, the inescapable conclusion is…the disclosures made were not a necessary or proportionate means of serving that purpose.
“For the most part they did not serve that purpose at all.
“Taken as a whole the disclosures were manifestly excessive and hence unlawful. There is no prospect that a different judgment would be reached after a trial.
“The interference with freedom of expression which those conclusions represent is a necessary and proportionate means of pursuing the legitimate aim of protecting the claimant’s privacy.”
A secondary aspect of the case, that ANL had breached Meghan’s copyright, was not dismissed today and could still go forward to a limited trial.
The judge concluded Meghan’s copyright had been infringed but the exact process of writing the letter was still in doubt. He was not asked to rule on a claim from the Duchess that data protection law had been broken.
But the judge said the privacy battle should end, with an assessment of damages to Meghan, adding there are “compelling reasons not to allow this aspect of the case to go to trial.
“It has already consumed large amounts of resources, both private and public. The early resolution of liability often benefits both parties, making it easier to compromise what remains.”
The case is due to return to court on March 2 to decide the “next steps” for the case, including assessment of damages, any outstanding issues that must be decided at trial, and costs.
— to www.standard.co.uk