UK

Ruling due over Harry’s bid to throw out publisher’s defence to libel claim

The Duke of Sussex is suing Associated Newspapers Limited over a February 2022 article (Yui Mok/PA)
The Duke of Sussex is suing Associated Newspapers Limited over a February 2022 article (Yui Mok/PA) The Duke of Sussex is suing Associated Newspapers Limited over a February 2022 article (Yui Mok/PA)

The Duke of Sussex is to discover whether he has won a bid to have the publisher of The Mail on Sunday’s defence to his High Court libel claim thrown out by a judge.

Harry, 39, is suing Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL) over a February 2022 article about his legal challenge against the Home Office following a decision to change to his publicly-funded security arrangements when visiting the UK.

The duke’s lawyers have said the story, which claimed Harry “tried to keep details of his legal battle to reinstate his police protection secret from the public”, was “an attack on his honesty and integrity”, and would undermine his charity work and efforts to tackle misinformation online.

ANL is contesting the claim, arguing the article expressed an “honest opinion” and did not cause “serious harm” to his reputation.

At a hearing in March, the High Court heard the duke’s bid to strike out ANL’s “honest opinion” defence or grant judgment in his favour on it.

Mr Justice Nicklin is due to give his written ruling over the preliminary issue on Friday from 10am.

The ruling comes the day after the High Court finished hearing Harry’s claim that the February 2020 decision of the Executive Committee for the Protection of Royalty and Public Figures (Ravec) to change the degree of his personal protection was “unlawful and unfair”.

A different judge’s decision in that case is expected at a later date.

Mr Justice Nicklin was previously told that The Mail on Sunday first reported that the duke was taking legal action against the Home Office in January 2022.

A press statement issued on Harry’s behalf at the time said he and his family were “unable to return to his home” due to the lack of police protection needed in the UK.

It added: “The duke first offered to pay personally for UK police protection for himself and his family in January of 2020 at Sandringham.

“That offer was dismissed. He remains willing to cover the cost of security, as not to impose on the British taxpayer.”

In a Home Office document prepared for a February 2022 preliminary hearing in Harry’s security claim, the department said his offer of private funding “notably was not advanced to Ravec” at the time of the duke’s visit in June 2021, or in any pre-action correspondence.

The Mail on Sunday article claimed this was “a crushing rebuttal to Harry’s initial public statement that implied he had always been willing to foot the bill”.

Justin Rushbrooke KC, for Harry, said in written submissions for the March hearing that ANL’s defence to the libel claim “rests upon two provably false premises” relating to the press statement.

The first was a suggestion that the duke had allegedly made a false claim over his willingness to pay for police protection in the UK while the second was he had allegedly stated his case against the Home Office was over a refusal to let him pay for this security.

He told the court it was “absolutely obvious” that the January 2022 press statement “makes no claim that the claimant (the duke) made an offer to Ravec or the Home Office or that his judicial review proceedings were to challenge a refusal to accept it.”

Andrew Caldecott KC, for ANL, previously said the bid to end their defence without a trial was “wholly without merit” and that “the whole case is built on sand”.

He added: “The claimant was responsible for press statements that said he would pay for security when he had never expressed any willingness to pay until after the judicial review.”

The barrister said in written submissions that Harry’s offer at Sandringham was presented “as an offer to ‘pay or contribute’ made to the family, not to Government”.

He continued: “The press statement then refers to ‘another attempt at negotiations’ being ‘also rejected’.

“Taken alone, that must suggest an attempt at negotiations with Government.”