Thomas Markle’s “thoughts and feelings” over the letter sent to him by his daughter, the Duchess of Sussex, are a “relatively minor” part of her privacy claim against the Mail on Sunday, a High Court judge has said.
Meghan, 39, is suing Associated Newspapers Ltd (ANL), publisher of the Mail on Sunday and Mail Online, over an article that reproduced parts of a handwritten letter sent to 76-year-old Mr Markle in August 2018.
At a hearing in London in October, Mr Justice Warby agreed to adjourn the trial – which was due to start on 11 January next year – until the autumn 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.
In a two-page, heavily redacted ruling published on Wednesday, Mr Justice Warby gave further information on agreeing to the adjournment.
He did not give details of the confidential reason for the application by the duchess 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 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 the following 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’.”
The duchess is seeking damages from ANL, the newspaper’s publisher and operator of the website, for alleged misuse of private information, copyright infringement and breach of the Data Protection Act.
ANL 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.
Meghan is suing Associated Newspapers over five articles, two in the Mail On Sunday and three on Mail Online, which were all published in February 2019.
Picture: Reuters/Toby Melville