The individuals contributed anonymously to a 2019 People interview and comprise a key element of the duchess’s case in her lawsuit against The Mail on Sunday and its parent company Associated Newspapers.
In the case’s second preliminary hearing on July 29, the duchess sought to safeguard the privacy of the women and alleged in a witness statement obtained by E! News that Associated Newspapers was “threatening to publish the names.”
She accused the organization of “attempting to evade accountability; to create a circus and distract from the point of this case.”
Meghan had previously stated that the legal system and The Mail on Sunday had access to the names of the People contributors and alleged that revealing this information to the public could have a negative impact on the mental health of the women involved.
On August 5, Justice Mark Warby ruled that the identities of the individuals in question should remain anonymous for the time being, The Daily Mail reported. However, he also stated that if any of the parties should be called as witnesses during the trial, the court could still decide to publicly reveal their names.
According to the publication, Justice Warby noted in his judgment that this is an unusual situation because the roles are reversed.
“A newspaper publisher wishes to publish the identity of the five sources. The claimant is opposing this, maintaining that the sources are confidential and provided information that appeared in People magazine,” he said. “The court orders that the identity of the five friends remain confidential in the interests of the administration of justice. This is an interim decision.”
ABC News reported that a spokesperson for Meghan and her husband Prince Harry said they were “happy that the judge has agreed to protect these five individuals.”
“The Duchess felt it was necessary to take this step to try and protect her friends — as any of us would — and we’re glad this was clear.”
Meghan is seeking damages from Associated Newspapers due to alleged misuse of private information, breach of the Data Protection Act, and copyright infringement. The lawsuit relates to five articles published in February 2019 that contained excerpts of a private letter she wrote to her father, Thomas Markle.
According to an ABC News report on the hearing, Meghan’s lawyers contended that the group of five has a double right to anonymity, firstly as confidential journalistic sources and then under their own privacy rights. Meanwhile, Associated Newspapers’ legal team argued in favor of making their identities public, claiming that failing to do so could harm the reporting of evidence.
No trial date has yet been set, but according to The Daily Mail, proceedings are expected to begin sometime in 2021.