Meghan Markle was no stranger to legal drama as a leading character in Suits, the popular American television series. Now, as a duchess married to a prince, she is facing a courtroom clash far beyond the imaginings of Hollywood screenwriters.
At the High Court this month, lawyers representing the Duchess of Sussex, 39, are scheduled to argue for a summary judgment in her privacy battle against Associated Newspapers, the publisher of the Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday, negating the need for a trial.
The lawyers will claim the judge does not need to hear witnesses or consider further evidence that her privacy rights were breached when The Mail on Sunday published extracts from a letter she wrote to her estranged father, Thomas Markle, complaining of his behavior before and after her wedding to Prince Harry in 2018.
If Mr Justice Warby accepts the duchess’s arguments for a summary judgment, the case will quickly be closed.
Otherwise the spectacle of “Markle v Markle” in the High Court looms. It could lead to the extraordinary situation in which Harry — who has never met his father-in-law — could come face to face with him for the first time in a courtroom.
Royal aides, past and present, would probably be called to testify. Several who previously worked for the Sussexes are already preparing to be grilled.
Some courtiers still hope it will not come to that, because the implications of a trial would be disastrous, whatever the outcome.
Otherwise the spectacle of “Markle v Markle” in the High Court looms.
A royal aide summed up the hope that the duchess will find an elegant way to drop her suit “to protect the royal family” and her vulnerable father. Others behind palace walls fear the worst, astonished that it has already gone this far. While they may be desperate for her to drop her case, it is impossible to predict the couple’s decision, given their clear enthusiasm for breaking with protocol.
The prospect of the royal family being dragged into a hugely embarrassing public trial has left palace courtiers appalled. “A trial would be traumatic for Meghan and Harry, it will expose palace operations, members of staff would be dragged into it on the witness stands … it would be deeply uncomfortable for the institution,” a senior royal source said last month.
The case has already taken a series of hair-raising turns since Harry, 36, announced in October 2019 that his wife was suing The Mail on Sunday’s publisher. He complained that the British tabloid press had waged a “ruthless campaign” against his wife. “I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces,” he said.
Associated Newspapers promptly declared it would defend its actions, and would rely on evidence from the duchess’s father should the case go to trial. Markle was later quoted as saying: “I’ll see Meghan in court.”
The prospect of the royal family being dragged into a hugely embarrassing public trial has left palace courtiers appalled.
The escalating hostilities between the Sussexes and the media sent shockwaves through the palace. Gerrard Tyrrell, one of the royal family’s most trusted lawyers, acted successfully for the Prince of Wales after The Mail on Sunday published extracts in 2005 from his private diary, in which he described the Chinese leadership as “appalling old waxworks”.
Tyrrell is understood to have joined several senior Sussex aides in advising against Meghan’s suit, but the couple turned to Schillings, a firm known for its aggressive tactics on behalf of celebrity clients upset with the media.
“Before Harry and Meghan pulled the trigger, we wanted to walk them through what it would look like if it went all the way [to trial] and to face up to that,” a royal source said.
But the advice fell on deaf ears; the Sussexes went on to quit royal life in the UK in favor of a “progressive new role” in America. Last April it was announced the Sussexes were severing all dealings with the tabloid press and would not “offer themselves up as currency for an economy of clickbait and distortion”.
The case has since unfolded, with procedural rulings that struck out some of Meghan’s claims and allowed her to keep the names of her friends secret. The trial, which had been scheduled for this month, was then postponed at Meghan’s request for reasons described as “confidential”. Markle, 76, has been reported to be “elderly and sick” and anxious to get the case over with.
“Before Harry and Meghan pulled the trigger, we wanted to walk them through what it would look like if it went all the way [to trial] and to face up to that.”
In November, amended documents filed by Meghan’s lawyers stated that she wrote to her father in August 2018 after advice from two senior members of the royal family, identified in some reports as Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall. The prospect of the heir to the throne becoming involved in the case heightened alarm in royal circles.
The Sussexes’ approach to privacy continues to divide opinion. On their new Spotify podcast last month, their son, Archie, 20 months, made his public speaking debut, coaxed by his parents into wishing listeners a happy new year.
Angela Levin, Harry’s biographer, tweeted: “Archie sounds sweet but is used as a prop. Hay-ho his privacy?”
Roya Nikkhah is the royal correspondent for The Times of London