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  1. Media Law
July 27, 2023

Judge says Prince Harry can’t take Sun and News of the World hacking claims to trial

The duke's other allegations of unlawful information gathering will be heard at trial in 2024.

By Charlotte Tobitt

A High Court judge has said Prince Harry cannot take his phone-hacking allegations against The Sun and the News of the World to trial as he brought his claim too late.

He can, however, still pursue allegations of other unlawful behaviour at News Group Newspapers (NGN) – “blagging” (obtaining information by deception), the use of private investigators and surveillance.

NGN (part of News UK) said the judge’s decision to dismiss the hacking claims and grant summary judgment to the publisher was a “significant victory”.

A spokesperson said: “As we reach the tail end of litigation, NGN is drawing a line under disputed matters, some of which date back more than 20 years ago…. This substantially reduces the scope of his legal claim. The exact nature and scope of any trial of the remainder will be the subject of further hearings.”

Mr Justice Fancourt said in his judgment: “I am satisfied that there is no reasonable prospect of the duke proving at trial that he did not know and could not with reasonable diligence have discovered facts that would show that he had a worthwhile claim for voicemail interception in relation to each of the News of the World and The Sun.

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“He already knew that in relation to the News Of The World, and he could easily have found out by making basic inquiries that he was likely to have a similar claim in relation to articles published by The Sun.”

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The decision came after NGN brought a bid in April to have Harry’s claim dismissed on the grounds it had been brought too late. The publisher had told the court the allegations related to events before 2012 and the claim was not issued until 27 September 2019, but there is a six-year limitation period for such claims.

That hearing also considered a claim by actor Hugh Grant – who has similarly been allowed to pursue claims of unlawful information gathering to trial with the exception of phone-hacking.

Mr Justice Fancourt said the “fact that private information was published without the Duke’s consent would (or reasonably could) have been as evident to him in 2012/2013 as it was when the claim was pleaded in 2019” and therefore he could have made his claim earlier.

Prince Harry ‘secret agreement’ claim implausible says judge

The judge also refused to allow Harry to alter his claim to rely on an alleged “secret agreement” between the royal family and senior executives at NGN, which he said had stopped him from pursuing a legal claim earlier – although his original case was that he was unaware of there being a potential case until about 2018.

The judge said there was no “sufficiently plausible evidential basis” for him to grant permission to change the case, saying Harry’s argument had a “lack of credibility” and “inconsistency” as well as “implausibility”.

A NGN spokesperson said: “It is quite clear there was never any such agreement and it is only the Duke who has ever asserted there was.”

However, Mr Justice Fancourt said the other parts of Harry’s claim could go ahead because he had not been shown any evidence that the royal knew – or could readily have known – early enough that NGN had “done anything other than hack his mobile phone (at the News of the World).

A trial of the claims of Harry and other claimants is now due to begin in January.

Harry’s separate hacking claim against Mirror Group Newspapers was heard at trial in June and judgment is now awaited.

Email pged@pressgazette.co.uk to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog

Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
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