A judge has ordered Prince Harry to pay the legal fees of the publisher of The Mail on Sunday tabloid for his failed court challenge in a libel lawsuit.
The Duke of Sussex is suing Associated Newspapers Ltd over an article that said Harry tried to hide his efforts to retain publicly funded protection in the United Kingdom after leaving his role as a working member of the royal family.
Justice Matthew Nicklin ruled on Friday in the High Court in London that the publisher has a “real prospect” of showing that statements issued on Harry’s behalf were misleading and that the February 2022 article reflected an “honest opinion” and was not libellous.
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“The defendant may well submit that this was a masterclass in the art of ‘spinning’,” Nicklin wrote, in refusing to strike the honest opinion defence.
Harry has claimed the article was “fundamentally inaccurate” and the newspaper defamed him when it suggested he lied in his initial public statements over efforts to challenge the government’s decision to strip him of his security detail after he and his family moved to the United States in 2020.
Harry, 39, the younger son of King Charles, also has a lawsuit pending against the government’s decision to protect him on a case-by-case basis when he visits the UK.
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex at the Variety Power of Women gala in Los Angeles (left); and with Prince Harry (right). Credit: Instagram (Variety)/Getty
He claims that hostility toward him and his wife on social media and relentless hounding by the news media threaten their safety.
Nicklin said a libel trial lasting three to four days will be scheduled between May 17 and July 31.
The nearly £50,000 ($A95,700) in legal fees Harry was ordered to pay by December 29 is likely to be dwarfed by the amount paid to lawyers in another lawsuit the duke has brought against the publisher.
Associated Newspapers is one of three UK tabloid publishers he is suing over claims they used unlawful means — such as deception, phone hacking or hiring private investigators — to try to dig up dirt on him.
The Mail publisher failed last month in its bid to throw out that lawsuit although it prevailed in getting some evidence barred from trial.
Nicklin — who is also hearing that case — is considering what to award in lawyers’ costs for each party’s respective wins.
Harry and co-claimants that include Elton John and Elizabeth Hurley said they spent £1.7 to prepare for and argue their case at a hearing over several days in March.
The publisher, meanwhile, is seeking up to £755,000.