UK

Confidential Leveson Inquiry documents can be disclosed in Harry legal action

Harry, alongside a number of other high-profile people, is suing Associated Newspapers Limited over allegations of unlawful information gathering.

The Duke of Sussex is suing Associated Newspapers Limited
Duke of Sussex The Duke of Sussex is suing Associated Newspapers Limited (Victoria Jones/PA)

Confidential Leveson Inquiry documents relating to Daily Mail records of payments to private investigators can be disclosed in the Duke of Sussex’s legal action against the newspaper’s publisher, ministers have said.

Harry, alongside a number of other high-profile people, is suing Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL) over denied allegations of unlawful information gathering.

In a November judgment, a High Court judge ruled that the legal challenges could continue but could not use information drawn from ledgers given by ANL to the Leveson Inquiry into press standards in 2011 and 2012.

The Duke of Sussex is suing Associated Newspapers Ltd
Duke of Sussex The Duke of Sussex is suing Associated Newspapers Ltd

ANL argued that the documents were provided with the understanding that they were confidential and were covered by publication restriction orders over their use.

Mr Justice Nicklin concluded that Harry’s lawyers using information from the ledgers to support his case was a breach of a restriction order made by the inquiry’s chair Sir Brian Leveson.

Harry’s lawyers later said they would ask the Government to vary the Leveson Inquiry restriction to allow material to be used.

In a joint statement on Friday, the Culture Secretary and the Home Secretary said they had decided to vary the order and allow documents to be disclosed “for the purposes of the legal proceedings”.

They said these were “Daily Mail ledger cards recording payments to private investigators” and “The Mail on Sunday ledger cards recording payments to private investigators”.

The statement said: “We do not consider that it is necessary in the public interest to withhold these documents from any disclosure or publication and have decided to vary the (final restriction order) so as to allow the disclosure of these documents solely for the purposes of the proceedings.

“In this case, in our judgment, the public interest in promoting the just, speedy and economic resolution of the proceedings outweighs the countervailing public interests.”

The High Court was previously told by ANL that it had rejected a request to hand over the ledgers voluntarily and would oppose the bid to ask a minister for access to them.

The publisher’s lawyers said the ledgers had been given to Harry’s lawyers in breach of “clear obligations” of confidentiality, adding lawyers had “acted tactically and cynically in seeking to use such illegitimately obtained information to support their speculative claims”.

Harry – who made a surprise appearance at the Royal Courts of Justice for a March 2023 preliminary hearing in his claim – is joined by singer Sir Elton John in suing ANL, as well as campaigner Baroness Doreen Lawrence.

The trio are among a group – including Sir Elton’s husband David Furnish, actresses Sadie Frost and Liz Hurley and ex-MP Sir Simon Hughes – accusing the publisher of carrying out or commissioning unlawful activities such as hiring private investigators to listen in to phone calls, intercept voicemail messages, and “blag” private records through deception.

ANL, which firmly denies the allegations, previously asked Mr Justice Nicklin at the hearing in March to rule in its favour without a trial, arguing the legal challenges were brought “far too late”.

But the judge ruled ANL had “not been able to deliver a ‘knockout blow’ to the claims” in his judgment on November 10 last year.

Following the ruling, ANL said in a statement: “As we have always made unequivocally clear, the lurid claims made by Prince Harry and others of phone hacking, landline tapping, burglary and sticky-window microphones are simply preposterous and we look forward to establishing this in court in due course.”