Prince Harry is back in Court – along with a clutch of other celebrities including Sir Elton John – taking their case against Associated Newspapers Ltd in a four-day legal battle at the High Court in London.
Joining the 38-year-old royal in the action are actresses Elizabeth Hurley and Sadie Frost, Sir Elton John and his husband, filmmaker David Furnish, and Baroness Doreen Lawrence of Clarendon OBE.
Representing Harry and the other claimants is lawyer David Sherborne, the ‘privacy superstar’ lawyer who has previously represented many celebrities including Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
Associated Newspapers Ltd (ANL), publisher of the Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday and MailOnline, is one of Britain’s largest media publishers and the defendant in this case.
Full details of the claims have not yet been made public, following an earlier application by Associated Newspapers which argues that the claimants’ use of information is in breach of a restriction order made by Lord Justice Leveson.
As a result, the judge has sealed the claims until that issue has been resolved, which will be part of the public hearing.
It is not the first time that the accusations have been made by law firms acting for celebrity clients.
Lawyers for the claimants have said they had become aware of “highly distressing” evidence revealing they had been victims of “abhorrent criminal activity” and “gross breaches of privacy” by Associated Newspapers.
Accusations are denied by the newspapers include the hiring of private investigators to secretly place listening devices inside people’s cars and homes, the commissioning of individuals to surreptitiously listen into and record people’s live, private telephone calls while they were taking place, the payment of police officials, with corrupt links to private investigators, for inside, sensitive information, the impersonation of individuals to obtain medical information from private hospitals, clinics, and treatment centres by deception, and the accessing of bank accounts, credit histories and financial transactions through illicit means and manipulation.
Associated Newspapers has strongly denied the allegations, describing them as “preposterous smears”, and claiming the legal action taken is “a fishing expedition by [the] claimants and their lawyers”.
The Leveson Inquiry, led by judge Sir Brian Leveson in 2011, is relevant to this case.
The public inquiry was launched after it was revealed that journalists from News of the World had hacked the phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.
The first part of the inquiry looked at the culture, practices and ethics of the press, and involved celebrities including Hugh Grant, Sienna Miller, Steve Coogan and Charlotte Church. During the inquiry, Paul Dacre, who was editor of the Daily Mail between 1992 and 2018, and is now Associated Newspapers’ editor-in-chief, “unequivocally” condemned “phone hacking and payments to the police”, saying “such practices are a disgrace and have shocked and shamed us all”.
The Levinson Inquiry was also raised in the defence of Australian personality Rolf Harris, subsequently convicted on child sex crimes.
The counsel for Associated Newspapers at the time, Jonathan Caplan KC of 5PB Chambers, told the inquiry that “so far as [Associated] is aware no journalist at Associated Newspapers has engaged in phone-hacking. It does not bribe police officers and, in particular, it condemns the shameful practice of hacking the mobile phones of the victims of crime, or of their families.”
Part two of the Leveson Inquiry was meant to investigate the relationship between journalists and the police, but never took place.
There have since been calls to re-open the uncompleted inquiry, with activists including those from the Hacked Off campaign saying such cases as this show wrongdoing within some newspapers is still taking place.
The impact of the Leveson Inquiry on journalism in the UK
The Leveson Inquiry had a significant impact on journalism in the UK, leading to several changes including the establishment of IPSO (Independent Press Standards Organisation), which replaced the Press Complaints Commission as an independent regulator for newspapers and magazines.
IPSO is responsible for enforcing a new set of standards that aim to improve ethical practices and ensure that journalists are held accountable for their actions.
This includes guidelines around accuracy, privacy, harassment, and discrimination. Newspapers that breach these standards can be fined or forced to publish corrections or apologies.
The Inquiry also meant that journalists are now more aware of the need to act ethically and responsibly, given the potential legal and reputational consequences if they don’t.
However, some critics argue that not enough has been done to address issues such as phone hacking and other forms of unethical behavior. They point out that IPSO is still funded by media organizations themselves, which raises questions about its independence.
Despite these criticisms, it’s clear that the Leveson Inquiry played an important role in raising awareness about ethical issues within journalism and prompting reforms in the industry.
Its legacy certainly continues to be felt today, both in terms of improved standards and ongoing debates about press freedom and accountability, although cases like the present one show that things have perhaps not changed as much as many might have thought.
There have been calls to re-open the uncompleted inquiry, with activists including those from the Hacked Off campaign saying such cases as this show wrongdoing within some newspapers is still taking place.
Prince Harry’s Battles
This is not the only legal battle Prince Harry is fighting. He has an ongoing libel case against Associated Newspapers over an article about his security arrangements in The Mail on Sunday. The paper says the article was based on “honest opinion”.
He has a separate legal fight against the Home Office over the same protection issues.
In May, his lawsuit against Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN), the publisher of the Daily Mirror, over accusations of phone hacking between 1996 and 2011, will go to trial.
Other celebrities involved in the case include former Girls Aloud bandmate Cheryl, actor Ricky Tomlinson, ex-footballer and TV presenter Ian Wright and the estate of the late singer George Michael. MGN has contested the claims and argues that some have been brought too late.
Balancing Freedom of Speech with the Right to Privacy in a Digital Age
The challenges of balancing freedom of speech with the right to privacy have become increasingly complex in the digital age.
While the internet has provided a platform for people to express their opinions freely, it has also created new opportunities for invasions of privacy.
The proliferation of social media and online news outlets has made it easier for individuals and organizations to disseminate information about others without their consent.
This has led to debates about where the line should be drawn between freedom of speech and privacy rights. Some argue that unfettered expression is essential for a functioning democracy, while others contend that privacy is a fundamental human right that must be protected at all costs.
In this case, the claimants allege that Associated Newspapers Ltd breached their right to privacy by engaging in illegal surveillance activities. The defendant denies these allegations, arguing that they are baseless and part of a “fishing expedition”.
The outcome of this case could have significant implications for the future of media regulation in the UK. It remains to be seen whether the court will side with the claimants or dismiss their claims as unfounded. Regardless of the outcome, however, this case highlights the importance of striking an appropriate balance between freedom of expression and privacy rights in our increasingly digital world.
Additionally, he is suing News Group Newspapers (NGN), the publisher of The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun newspapers (as well as the now-defunct News of the World) for alleged phone-hacking.
The Sun has always denied phone hacking took place at the paper, and the publisher has not admitted any unlawful conduct at the title.