A question being asked with increasing frequency these days, especially after the revelations in Prince Harry’s bestselling book, is whether the royal family can and should sue Harry and Meghan Markle.
It is not a common occurrence for members of the British royal family to sue someone. However, they do have legal teams in place to protect their interests and reputation, and they have taken legal action in the past when they feel it is necessary. Some notable examples include Prince Charles suing a newspaper for publishing his private journals,
It is not known that England’s royal family has ever sued a member of their own family. While there have been conflicts and disputes within the royal family, it is not common for these to result in legal action. Strict privacy laws protect the royal family, so it is difficult to know for sure.
Harry and Meghan themselves have initiated close to a dozen lawsuits over the past three years. For ardent royal watchers, this is another point of separation between the former and current royal family members. Simply put, England’s royal family tends not to sue.
The reported position of the royal family is that they have no intention to sue Harry and Meaghan for any of their public statements over the past few months or anything written in Harry’s new book. The logic is that doing so would only bring more of the kind of attention the couple seems to want.
But if the next thing that comes out of the former royals’ California camp pushes the royal family and their lawyers over some precipice of tolerance, how would they pursue a claim?
Given that Harry and Meaghan reside in California and really have no tangible ties at this point to the UK, if a lawsuit were to be initiated against them by members of the royal family, it would almost certainly need to be in a California court. This wouldn’t be an impossible thing, but it presents a practical hurdle for the royal family (they would need to be represented by U.S. counsel) as well as an intangible hurdle of not being able to play the game on their chosen home court.
Part of the reason it’s not a common practice for the royal family to sue someone is that public monies fund the royals. Wasting public money on what could be seen by the public as frivolous lawsuits isn’t optically great.
As family law attorney Sandra Choi points out:
“This is a crisis management issue more than a legal one. Yes, from a legal perspective, the family could sue if there is anything in Harry’s memoir or any statement he or Meghan publicly made that the royal family’s legal counsel believes is defamatory. But the result would be a significant PR problem and probably not worth legal gain.”
A report late last week indicated that King Charles and the Queen Consort Camilla were “likely” to file a defamation suit against Harry in their personal rather than royal capacity.
This makes no sense on several levels. Even if the King and Queen Consort felt that they had sufficient evidentiary support for a claim that Harry defamed them in his book or that Harry and Meghan defamed them in published statements, enduring the discovery process would never make it worth filing the suit.
In discovery, both parties would try to ascertain certain facts stemming from the lawsuit. Discovery can be a prolonged and often painful process where parties value discretion and secrecy.
Finally, a key reason why it would be unlikely for the royal family to ever sue Harry and Meghan is that civil lawsuits are best used when a party has been monetarily damaged and seeks to be made whole by the court.
There is no evidence that the royal family has suffered in any monetary way from anything Harry or Meghan has said or written. Even if there has been (highly debatable) any measurable reputational damage to the royal family, going to court won’t make it better in any way.
The best way for the royal family to air any grievance against Harry and Meghan is in a forum they have the ability to control and influence, which would be public opinion through the vehicle of media. As Harry himself has pointed out on several occasions, the royal family has a proven ability to exercise influence over the media. They have absolutely zero power to influence an American court.
So if simply taking the high road and staying silent is an option that grows tiring for the royal family, the last place they should take a fight is to a court of law.
Aron Solomon, JD, is the chief legal analyst for Esquire Digital