Prince Harry suffered a court setback in his lawsuit against The Sun—but a legal expert told Newsweek he may fair better against his biggest press rival.
The Duke of Sussex was told on July 27 that he cannot sue Rupert Murdoch’s British tabloid for phone hacking because it was too late to bring his case, though his allegations of other unlawful practices will proceed to trial.
News Group Newspapers, its publisher, denies the allegations and celebrated the ruling as a “significant victory.” So, it would be tempting to assume the champagne corks would be popping at other tabloids in the United Kingdom, too.
One of Harry’s other lawsuits is against the Daily Mail and its sister titles and alleges phone hacking, wiretapping and other unlawful practices, which the publisher denies. Associated Newspapers, which also prints The Mail on Sunday and MailOnline, has argued that Prince Harry’s allegations are too old and should be dismissed.
This too will be a major high-stakes court battle for Harry, who together with his wife, Meghan Markle has sued The Mail on Sunday three times before and has repeatedly swiped at the Mail titles publicly.
And Mark Stephens, a U.K.-based attorney at the Howard Kennedy law firm, told Newsweek that The Sun‘s victory may not be repeated by the Mail.
In order to overcome the first hurdle, Harry must prove that he could not reasonably have discovered the allegations he is making until less than six years before he filed the case, according to Stephens. If he fails, then no matter if the allegations are true or false, they will be thrown out just like the phone hacking claims against The Sun.
“The difficulty that I think the Mail have is that they were saying that there was no criminality or wrongdoing, and the question is, when was it reasonably discoverable?” Stephens told Newsweek. “In the News [Group Newspapers] case, it was obvious that he knew but was advised, on his case, not to do anything about it by the palace at the time.
“In the case of the Mail, it isn’t evident that Harry was told and so therefore the question becomes, when was it reasonably discoverable?”
Part of Harry’s problem in his case against The Sun was that its now-defunct Sunday sister title News of the World admitted hacking his phone and apologized in 2006.
Palace staff also brought their own claims against the publisher in 2012 and Harry acknowledged in his witness statement that he was aware of this happening but believed there was a secret agreement with the palace to keep royals out of any litigation.
The judge rejected his claim about the secret agreement and found that he could have brought his case as far back as 2012.
None of those elements are at play in the Daily Mail case, though, and the Mail titles were not caught up in criminal prosecutions for phone hacking like the News of the World. That all means the Mail would have to work harder to pull off a victory of the kind executives at The Sun are currently celebrating.
Stephens did say the phone hacking victory would not be the end of the battle for The Sun and defeat on the remaining elements of the case would be a blow.
The other unlawful practices alleged are what in Britain is termed “blagging,” a method of obtaining private information by posing as a particular celebrity or one of their friends.
Harry believes that journalists blagged flight details for his ex-girlfriend Chelsy Davy in advance so they could get pictures of her arriving at airports.
“I think in relation to the News [Group Newspapers] case,” Stephens said, “essentially Harry only has to win one or two elements and The Sun has to win everything and I think many people will see it as a bit of a technicality. So it’s not a vindication of News Group.
“The problem is that whilst there’s been no finding against News Group I think they are vulnerable, reputationally, still. And so even if Harry wins on the unlawful news gathering that’s quite important to him because he wants official acknowledgment of wrongdoing.”
Stephens also believes the Mail publications stand a strong chance of losing the case on at least some of the allegations, if not all, saying, “I think that they’re not gonna get it on a knockout.”
If Harry manages that, he will celebrate it as a victory and, no doubt, an even more significant one than The Sun‘s last week.
Meanwhile, Adrian Beltrami, attorney for the Mail, told a High Court hearing in March: “The claims are rejected by the defendant in their entirety.”
The court is currently considering whether Harry’s claim against the Mail can proceed to trial or whether part or all of the case should be dismissed.
Jack Royston is chief royal correspondent for Newsweek, based in London. You can find him on Twitter at @jack_royston and read his stories on Newsweek‘s The Royals Facebook page.
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