Why Prince Harry Made Surprise Appearances in a London Courtroom
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Why Prince Harry Made Surprise Appearances in a London Courtroom

Though the royal had no plans to visit his family during an unannounced trip to the UK, his appearance emphasized his continuing concerns about the practices of England’s media. 

When Prince Harry walked into a London courtroom Monday morning, it was a surprise to the journalists with their cameras trained on the door. Though Harry signed onto legal action against Associated Newspapers, the parent company of the Daily Mail, last October, the court convened a preliminary hearing this week, meaning that Harry did not need to be in the courtroom. But Harry flew in from California and took a seat next to his coplaintiffs in the case, a group of public figures including Sir Elton John, Elizabeth Hurley, Sadie Frost, and Baroness Doreen Lawrence, to hear his lawyers present evidence, and he returned to court on Tuesday and Thursday. Though a source told Vanity Fair that the prince had no plans to see his brother, Prince William, or father, King Charles III, during his time in the UK, his presence is proof of his determination to take on his home country’s tabloid media.

For more than three years, Harry and his wife, Meghan Markle, have waged multiple legal battles with various British newspapers over their tactics. So far the couple has seen some success. In 2021, Meghan won a case against Associated Newspapers over a letter she sent to her father, Thomas Markle. The company apologized to the duchess, who was awarded symbolic damages of £1. The outlet also paid an unspecified sum for infringing on Meghan’s copyright by publishing parts of the letter.

Though Harry has taken action over recent stories, the suit against Associated Newspapers deals with a much earlier era, from 1993 to 2018, according to a skeleton argument filed by the plaintiffs. When the group’s law firm, Hamlins, filed the case last October, they alleged a wide variety of misconduct, including secret listening devices, the payment of police officials, accessing of bank information, and impersonation to acquire hospital records. In response, Associated Newspaper called the allegations “unsubstantiated and highly defamatory claims,” adding that they were “based on no credible evidence.”

This week’s preliminary hearing was an opportunity for the plaintiffs to present their evidence to a judge, while Associated Newspapers argued that the suit should be thrown out because too much time had elapsed. According to Sky News, their attorney said that the plaintiffs didn’t bring legal action about the stories within the statute of limitations period. 

In a witness statement submitted to the court and seen by Vanity Fair, Harry explained why he wanted the case to move forward. “Unfair is not a big enough word to describe the fact that Associated is trying at this early stage to prevent me from bringing my claim,” the statement read. “If the most influential and popular newspaper in the UK, can evade justice without there being a trial of my claims, then what does that say about the industry as a whole and the consequences for our great country.” He also had harsh words for the newspaper company. “I am bringing this claim because I love my country and I remain deeply concerned by the unchecked power, influence and criminality of Associated.”

In his statement, he also accused the institution of the monarchy of withholding information about the extent of phone hacking. “The institution made it clear that we did not need to know anything about phone hacking and it was made clear to me that the Royal Family did not sit in the witness box because that could open up a can of worms,” he wrote. He added that he did not have his own legal representation “outside of the Institution” until 2019, when Meghan filed her suit against Associated Newspapers.

The suit against Associated Newspapers is just one of a handful of Harry’s pending cases related to phone hacking. His case against Mirror Group Newspapers will go to trial in May. He also has a case pending against News Group Newspapers, publisher of The Sun and the now defunct News of the World. He has also filed a libel suit against Associated Newspapers about a February 2022 story pertaining to his security arrangements.

While Harry was promoting his memoir, Spare, earlier this year, he mentioned the legal actions he was taking related to phone hacking, and why he thought they might still be affecting his press coverage. “I put in my claims over three years ago and I’m still waiting,” he told ITV’s Tom Bradby. “So one might assume that a lot of this, from their perspective, is retaliation, and trying to intimidate me to settle, rather than take it to court and potentially may have to shut down.”

During the same interview, he said his experience waging legal battles with the press had broadened his understanding of the value of taking on the press. “One of the reasons why I am moving the mission of changing the media landscape within the UK from being personal to my life’s work—a large part of that is down to the ongoing legal battles.”