Meghan Markle's Claims of Vicious Tabloid Circus Are 'Hyperbolic,' Says Judge

Meghan Markle's claims of a "vicious" agenda by a U.K. tabloid to produce "clickbait" are "hyperbolic," a judge said today.

The Duchess of Sussex last month submitted a witness statement to the High Court pleading for the names of her close circle of friends to be kept confidential.

In it, she said the Mail on Sunday was "playing a media game with real lives," was "vicious" and threatened the "emotional and mental wellbeing" of those friends.

However, the statement was criticized by Judge Mark Warby today as he told off both sides for using the case for publicity.

At the High Court, in London, he ruled the five friends should have their identities protected, in a victory for the duchess.

However, he also made a lengthy statement stating both Meghan and the newspaper had been playing out "their dispute in public" rather than merely in court.

He said: "The parties' tit-for-tat criticisms of one another for publicizing details of this case in and through the media are of some relevance.

"Each side has over-stated its case about the conduct of the other."

Judge Warby said the Mail on Sunday's lawyers had claimed Meghan's team's "real motivation" was to "wage their own campaign against the press."

However, he said the newspaper had "not made good" on those allegations in the evidence given to the court.

He added: "Nor does the evidence persuade me that the similarly hyperbolic assertions in [Meghan's] witness statement are soundly based.

"It is however tolerably clear that neither side has, so far, been willing to confine the presentation of its case to the courtroom.

"Both sides have demonstrated an eagerness to play out the merits of their dispute in public, outside the courtroom, and primarily in media reports."

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry South Africa
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, is watched by Britain's Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, as she delivers a speech at the Youth Employment Services Hub in Tembisa township, Johannesburg, on October 2, 2019. Her words came on the day her legal action against the Mail on Sunday was announced. Michele Spatari/Getty

He also described Meghan's statement as "short on factual material."

The remarks come after leaks and briefings from both sides in recent weeks in a case that has made front-page news in the U.K.

The judgment describes how within 15 minutes of Meghan's statement being received by the Mail on Sunday's lawyers, they received a call from Sky News who had been leaked a copy.

The judge noted: "[The Mail on Sunday's] side had not made the application public."

At the same time, he accused the Mail on Sunday's publisher, Associated Newspapers, of "sensational reporting."

The company also publishes the Mail Online and the Daily Mail.

Judge Warby said: "The coverage has selectively highlighted aspects of the defendant's case and features of the claimant's case that are novel and interesting to the public.

"The focus is on sensational reporting of information that happens to be contained in the claimant's statements of case."

In particular, he highlighted a story that speculated about whether a close friend of Meghan's would give evidence.

Judge Warby said: "The evidence includes, for example, an article published by the defendant that speculates about whether one named individual will 'still back Meghan in 'trial of the century' after a falling-out between them.'

"The evidence shows to my satisfaction that this article is misleading and inaccurate, as it relied on some garbled and false claims contained in third-party publications.

"But it is an illustration of the kind of undesirable pressure that potential witnesses might face."

Meghan is suing over the Mail on Sunday's decision to publish a private letter she sent her father.

Five of her friends have found themselves at the heart of the case because they defended her to People magazine.

In anonymous interviews, they tried to tell her side of the story, referencing a letter she sent Thomas Markle about the collapse of their relationship.

The Mail on Sunday says that Meghan must have given her permission for them to mention it, meaning the letter was no longer private.

Thomas Markle gave the letter to the newspaper, which published extensive extracts alongside an interview with him.

Meghan's witness statement in full:

Associated Newspapers, the owner of The Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday, is threatening to publish the names of five women - five private citizens - who made a choice on their own to speak anonymously with a U.S. media outlet more than a year ago, to defend me from the bullying behavior of Britain's tabloid media.

These five women are not on trial, and nor am I. The publisher of the Mail on Sunday is the one on trial. It is this publisher that acted unlawfully and is attempting to evade accountability; to create a circus and distract from the point of this case - that the Mail on Sunday unlawfully published my private letter.

Each of these women is a private citizen, young mother, and each has a basic right to privacy. Both the Mail on Sunday and the court system have their names on a confidential schedule, but for the Mail on Sunday to expose them in the public domain for no reason other than clickbait and commercial gain is vicious and poses a threat to their emotional and mental wellbeing. The Mail on Sunday is playing a media game with real lives.

I respectfully ask the court to treat this legal matter with the sensitivity it deserves, and to prevent the publisher of the Mail on Sunday from breaking precedent and abusing the legal process by identifying these anonymous individuals - a privilege that these newspapers in fact rely upon to protect their own unnamed sources.

Judge Mark Warby's comments:

It is in this context that the parties' tit-for-tat criticisms of one another for publicising details of this case in and through the media are of some relevance.

Each side has over-stated its case about the conduct of the other.

The defendant has not made good, for present purposes, [Mail on Sunday lawyer Keith] Mathieson's contention that the "real motivation" of the claimant and her husband is "to afford them an opportunity to wage their own campaign against the press rather than to obtain the remedies at which the proceedings are ostensibly directed".

Nor does the evidence persuade me that the similarly hyperbolic assertions in the claimant's witness statement are soundly based.

It is however tolerably clear that neither side has, so far, been willing to confine the presentation of its case to the courtroom.

Both sides have demonstrated an eagerness to play out the merits of their dispute in public, outside the courtroom, and primarily in media reports.

This approach to litigation has little to do with enabling public scrutiny of the legal process, or enhancing the due administration of justice.

Indeed, in some respects it tends to impede both fairness and transparency.
This will be a judge-alone trial, not a trial by jury.

But to fight proceedings in court and through litigation PR or sensational reporting at one and the same time is not designed to enhance understanding of the legal process.

For a party to file and immediately publicize prejudicial and partisan characterizations of the other's litigation conduct in the media before a hearing certainly does not assist.

Equally, the defendant's coverage of this litigation has provided readers with a good deal of information about the claimant, her views and her attitudes towards the Royal family, which is no doubt interesting to the public, but it has done relatively little to provide insight into the "workings of the law".

The coverage has selectively highlighted aspects of the defendant's case and features of the claimant's case that are novel and interesting to the public.

The focus is on sensational reporting of information that happens to be contained in the claimant's statements of case.