The Duchess of Sussex today demanded a “super-charged right of confidentiality” for her friends in the High Court fight against the publishers of the Mail on Sunday.
Prince Harry’s wife Meghan, 38, is locked in a bitter High Court dispute with Associated Newspapers, over the publication of a letter she sent to her estranged father, Thomas Markle.
The Duchess insists it was an invasion of her privacy and launched legal action for damages, and is now trying to stop five of her friends from being identified in the explosive court feud.
Her lawyer Justin Rushbrooke QC argued revealing the names of the friends would be an “unacceptably high price” for the Duchess to pay for pursuing the case through the courts, asking for an injunction.
“To force (her)… to disclose their identities to the public at this stage would be to exact an unacceptably high price for pursuing her claim for invasion of privacy against the defendant in respect of its disclosure of the letter”, he said.
“Given the close factual nexus between the letter and the events leading up to the defendant’s decision to publish its contents, it would be a cruel irony were she required to pay that price before her claim has even been determined.”
The friends were named on a ‘confidential’ court schedule after they spoke anonymously to US magazine People in early February last year, wanting to give a positive view of the Duchess to counter alleged tabloid attacks.
Mr Rushbrooke said the five friends were entitled to “a very high level of super-charged right of confidentiality” as confidential journalistic sources.
He relied on articles published by the MailOnline, suggesting the newspaper group had started a “wildfire” of speculation about the friends by running stories about the fact the friends had been named in court documents.
Referring to the confidential court document, he said: “Journalists were no doubt poring over it with glee in the morning.”
He showed the court a “massively long article which - in its own sub-headline – records accurately that ‘Meghan has now identified the five friends, who spoke anonymously, naming them in confidential papers'.
“Helpfully it goes on ‘the friends will never be identified’”, he said, adding: “Factually we would not disagree, in fact our evidence supports it.”
The court has been provided with a witness statement by one of the friends to support the injunction application, but Mr Rushbrooke himself accidentally named the woman during his oral submissions.
Mr Justice Warby, who has banned naming the friends at this stage, swiftly imposed a reporting restriction on the slip-up, saying it was “bound to happen”.
Antony White QC, representing the newspaper group, told the court the “mere status of being a confidential journalistic source doesn’t of itself form part of someone’s private life”.
He said The Duchess’ legal team had not been forced to identify the friends in court documents, but rather had chosen to do it in response to a request for further information in the privacy claim.
Mr White also argued there has been a “guessing game” over the identity of the friends since the People article was published.
“There are a number of reports where ill-informed speculation led to incorrect guesses at the identities, no doubt impacting on the incorrectly identified.
“One purpose of the open justice principle is to limit that sort of ill-informed speculation.”
The newspaper has also accused the Duchess of “using her public profile and her PR team to publicise and promote the merits of her own position” in the case.
Mr Justice Warby said he would not give a ruling today, saying he hope to come to a decision before August 10.