Mail on Sunday ordered to pay extra costs by High Court judge after ‘refusing to see the light’ before defeat in Duchess of Sussex legal battle

·3 min read
<p>The Duchess of Sussex</p> (Getty Images)

The Duchess of Sussex

(Getty Images)

The publishers of the Mail on Sunday have been criticised by a High Court judge for refusing to “see the light” before eventually conceding defeat in its long-running battle with the Duchess of Sussex.

Meghan has emerged victorious from a bruising legal dispute with Associated Newspapers Ltd (ANL) after extracts of a private letter to her father featured in news stories.

She won her claim on privacy in February, when Lord Justice Warby ruled the news group’s defence had no chance of succeeding.

The Duchess also won a claim for breach of copyright, with ANL conceding late in April that she had been the sole author of the letter.

In a ruling this afternoon, the judge found the newspaper publisher should pay extra costs as it had delayed conceding defeat on copyright for “very nearly three weeks” until just before the latest court hearing.

Evidence had emerged from Meghan’s former aide Jason Knauf, debunking ANL’s theory that he might have helped write the letter and lay claim to joint copyright. 

The newspaper group’s defence had been rendered “unreal” by the fresh evidence, Lord Justice Warby said, “reduced to a speculative hypothesis, founded on hearsay from an unknown source, which lacks corroboration and is contradicted by both the key individuals”.

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He said the letter from Mr Knauf’s solicitors, Addleshaw Goddard, on April 6 “put paid to its remaining case on ownership of copyright”, but the newspaper group “refused to face up to its obvious implications”. 

“It would have been reasonable to take a little time to absorb what had happened, and work out the consequences”, he said in his ruling.

“But the defendant (ANL) could and should have achieved all of that in the 6 days that passed between the Addleshaw Goddard’s letter and the letter from Schillings (the Duchess’s lawyers) inviting the defendant to concede the issues.

“Instead, the defendant took up time on other matters – including the long letter of complaint it sent to Addleshaw Goddard on 8 April. It took another 19 days for the defendant to see the light. When it did so, on 27 April, the costs of the application had been incurred.”

The judge has ordered the newspaper group to publish a front page statement in the Mail on Sunday about the outcome of the legal case, as well as on the MailOnline website.

Damages to the Duchess have not yet been assessed, as ANL is mounting an appeal to the decision to throw out its case.

The five-page letter from Meghan to her father Thomas Markle was sent in 2018, when she was trying to persuade him to stop fueling stories in the media.

The legal claim was mounted on the basis of five articles published from February 2019.

Mr Justice Warby, in his ruling today, hit out at the “torturous” back and forth between lawyers on the issues of financial remedies.

Delivering his ruling on the privacy claim, he said ANL’s publication of Meghan’s letter to her father was “manifestly excessive and hence unlawful”.  

“It was, in short, a personal and private letter”, he said. “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.”

The newspaper group has agreed to “use its best endeavours” to locate copies of the letter, which will be delivered to Meghan’s lawyers and destroyed once all legal action is over.

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