Prince Harry Will Be First Senior Royal In The Witness Box Since 1891

The Duke of Sussex is testifying against Mirror Group Newspapers over phone-hacking allegations.
Prince Harry will become the first royal to enter the witness box since the 1890s on Tuesday
Prince Harry will become the first royal to enter the witness box since the 1890s on Tuesday
Victoria Jones via © 2023 PA Media, All Rights Reserved

Prince Harry will enter the witness box on Tuesday as part of the ongoing phone-hacking trial against Mirror Group Newspapers.

Fifth-in-line to the throne, Harry will be the first senior royal since 1891 to do so – meaning an event which was already expected to be a big deal here in the UK will potentially now have the world’s attention.

The Duke of Sussex did appear in High Court in London earlier this year for a different lawsuit against the publisher of the Daily and Sunday Mail tabloids, but he was not a witness in this instance.

Harry is expected to fly in from his home in California on Monday, 5 June, to watch the outline of the highly-publicised case against Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) being argued in the High Court, in London.

He will then be cross-examined on both Tuesday and Wednesday, although the trial itself will run until the end of June.

Why is Harry testifying?

Harry is part of a wider case of more than 100 claimants – including actor Ricky Tomlinson, former Girls Aloud member Cheryl, footballer and TV presenter Ian Wright and the estate of the late pop star George Michael – all alleging that the MGN used illegal means such as phone-hacking to obtain stories about them in the past.

Only four “representative” claims by individuals will be heard in court: Prince Harry’s, those from Coronation Street actors Michael Turner and Nikki Sanderson, as well as the ex-wife of comedian Paul Whitehouse, Fiona Wightman.

Harry first launched his part of the lawsuit back in 2019, in reference to articles published between 1996 and 2011, which include information supposedly obtained through unlawful means.

While his team raised 148 articles as evidence, only around 33 will be included in the trial.

Harry’s lawyers say those close to him were also targeted, including his father King Charles and the late TV presenter Caroline Flack, whom he briefly dated.

What will happen?

The Duke of Sussex will be questioned by the Mirror’s barrister, Andrew Green, about articles with headlines such as “Harry is a Chelsy fan” and “Hooray Harry’s dumped” – stories which detailed his relationship with ex-girlfriend Chelsy Davy.

He’ll also answer questions about his relationship with the former Mirror editor and now vocal critic of the Sussexes, Piers Morgan, amid claims that he knew about the phone-hacking. Morgan denies such allegations.

What do the newspaper publishers say?

MGN, now part of the publisher Reach, apologised at the start of the trial and admitted that Harry was entitled to compensation after the Sunday People had unlawfully sought information about him on one occasion.

However, MGN still denies allegations of voicemail interception in the cases being looked at it in the trial, and it has also suggested that some of the claims brought have exceeded the legal time limit to pursue a challenge.

MGN has previously acknowledged that phone hacking took place at some of its newspapers and has paid hundreds of millions of pounds in settlements.

The publisher is expected to attribute much of the information it published about the Duke of Sussex to sources within the Palace.

Harry himself has repeatedly alleged that various members of Royal Family have been complicit of leaking negative information about others to enhance their own reputations. The Palace has not commented on his claims.

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, leaves the High Court in London, Britain March 27, 2023.
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, leaves the High Court in London, Britain March 27, 2023.

Who was the last royal in the witness box?

Edward VII testified as a witness as part of a divorce case in 1870 and then again in 1891 in a slander trial over a card game, although both cases happened before he became king.

Edward, the son of Queen Victoria, was the Prince of Wales at the time – and according to contemporary reports uncovered by The Guardian, was clearly in a “state of nervousness” during the 1891 case.

The jury eventually sided with the Prince of Wales, but his appearance in the courts is said to have diminished his reputation.

Since then, the nearest a royal had been to the courts was when Princess Anne pleaded guilty to an offence under the Dangerous Dogs Act in 2002.

Why do royals stay out of court?

David Yelland, senior comms adviser and a former editor of The Sun, claimed the royals don’t like court cases because they can’t control the narrative around them.

He told Reuters: “These cases are often a case of mutually assured destruction. I don’t think anyone will get out looking great.”

Why is Harry separating himself from royal tradition?

Harry has been all over the news in recent years for criticising the tabloids, which he has described as the “mothership of online trolling”, for their coverage of his personal life.

In doing so, he has rejected the Royal Family’s famous but informal “never complain, never explain” mantra.

As Harry wrote in his memoir Spare, his father King Charles supposedly called his legal battle against newspaper publishers a “suicide mission”.

Almost every British national newspaper aside from The Guardian, Daily Telegraph and the Financial Times, is being sued by Harry over what he alleges were intrusions into his personal life and, in one case, defamation.

When it came to Harry’s decision to appear in the witness box, Yelland speculated: “It’s hard to escape the notion that he’s using the courts because he knows that when he is in the witness box, he will be believed.

“It is the ultimate interview to be cross-examined by a hostile barrister in the witness box.”

As he revealed in Spare and the promotional interviews around its release, the Duke of Sussex partially blames press intrusion for his decision to leave life as a working royal behind.

He has criticised the paparazzi, too, for their role in his mother Princess Diana’s death and claimed the tabloids operate in cahoots with the palace to manage which stories were actually published.

The Duke of Sussex has previously suggested he is exposing media behaviour to “save journalism as a profession,” and that this cause is his “life’s work”.

He and his wife Meghan Markle have filed at least six other lawsuits in recent years, according to Reuters.

Harry also has two other separate phone-hacking cases against the Daily Mail publishers and the Sun publishers. It’s not yet clear if they will go to trial, but if they do, he may have to go to the witness box again.

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