Meghan Markle’s dad has “quite rightly” not been told the confidential reason her lawsuit against a publisher has been delayed for nine months, a judge says.
High Court judge Mr Justice Warby has questioned whether Thomas Markle, 76, is an important witness in the civil case and whether he really needs to give evidence in person.
In a heavily redacted ruling made public on Wednesday, the judge also said Mr Markle’s “thoughts and feelings” over the letter sent to him by his daughter are a “relatively minor” part of her privacy claim against the publisher of the Mail on Sunday and MailOnline.
Meghan, 39, is suing Associated Newspapers Ltd over an article which reproduced parts of a handwritten letter sent to her dad in August 2018, five months after he missed her wedding to Prince Harry.
At a hearing in London in October, Mr Justice Warby agreed to adjourn the trial – which was due to start on January 11 next year – until the autumn of 2021 after hearing from lawyers for both parties in a private hearing.
The senior judge had said the private hearing was necessary to protect “the confidentiality of the information relied on” by Meghan in her application to postpone the trial.
Lawyers for Associated Newspapers have described Mr Markle as an “important witness”.
Mr Markle, who lives in Mexico, has said he is willing to fly to London to give evidence and wants a trial to be held sooner rather than later because he isn’t in good health and “could die tomorrow”.
In a two-page ruling, Mr Justice Warby gave further information on agreeing to the adjournment, saying there is “no medical evidence suggesting that a delay would make his (Mr Markle’s) availability less likely”.
He did not give details of the confidential reason for the application by the Duchess of Sussex to adjourn the trial until the autumn, saying his ruling “will not set out much in the way of details of the application, the private and confidential information, or the evidence about it”.
It is “unnecessary, and undesirable” to do so, the senior judge said.
The ruling notes that Mr Markle has been identified as a potential witness for ANL and considers the importance of his evidence.
Mr Justice Warby wrote: “I had wondered quite how important Mr Markle’s evidence really was to the defence case. It was not immediately obvious to me why he was considered to be important.”
He concludes that Mr Markle’s “subjective thoughts and feelings do seem to be, on any objective view, a relatively minor aspect of the case overall”.
“It is not suggested that Mr Markle’s evidence on those topics is an essential component of the defence case,” the ruling says.
“More importantly… there is no suggestion that Mr Markle would not be available to give evidence later next year. There is, in particular, no medical evidence suggesting that a delay would make his availability less likely.”
The judge also says: “The evidence before me included not only an account of Mr Markle’s situation and health but also an account of his views and feelings about a possible delay to the trial. But it was not suggested that his feelings on that matter should guide my decision.”
Mr Markle has “quite rightly” not been told the confidential reason for his daughter’s application to adjourn the hearing, the judgment says.
Sections of the letter to Mr Markle were published in the newspaper and online in February last year, and it was announced the duchess would be bringing legal action in October.
The headline on the article read: “Revealed: The letter showing true tragedy of Meghan’s rift with a father she says has ‘broken her heart into a million pieces’.”
Meghan and Harry Finding Freedom
The duchess is seeking damages from the publisher for alleged misuse of private information, copyright infringement and breach of the Data Protection Act.
Associated Newspapers wholly denies the allegations, particularly the duchess’s claim the letter was edited in any way that changed its meaning, and says it will hotly contest the case.
Its lawyers claim palace aides helped former Suits actress write the letter.
Documents lodged with the High Court claim Harry’s communications secretary Jason Knauf “and/or” the Kensington Palace communications team “contributed” to a draft of the document.
Meghan and Harry Finding Freedom
The publisher’s lawyers claim the duchess’s letter is not her “intellectual creation” and therefore not original work, as it was copied from an electronic draft, had the input of the communications team and contained pre-existing facts including Meghan’s “view of her father and his conduct”, and so was not subject to copyright protection.
The legal team says in its document: “It is for the claimant to prove she was the only person who contributed to the writing of the electronic draft.
“Without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing, the defendant infers that Jason Knauf and/or others in the Kensington Palace Communications team contributed to the writing of the electronic draft.”
The duchess’ legal team has claimed to the High Court that she produced an early draft on her iPhone’s Notes app before writing out the final version by hand.
Associated Newspapers claims Mr Markle asked for the letter to be published to set the record straight after Meghan’s friends anonymously revealed its existence and, the publisher says, mischaracterised it as a “loving” letter in an interview with People magazine.
Meghan is suing Associated Newspapers over five articles, two in the Mail On Sunday and three on MailOnline, which were published in February 2019.
Even though the start of the case has been delayed, the court will hear a summary judgment application in January, when Meghan’s lawyers will argue that Associated Newspapers’ defence has no prospect of succeeding at a trial.