The Reason Meghan And Harry Might Take Legal Action Over A Dinner With Eugenie

Even though they aren't working royals anymore, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are still celebrities. The public remains captivated by their comings and goings, which can make maintaining privacy a struggle for the couple. Andrea McDonnell, co-author of the book "Celebrity: A History of Fame," told NBC, "We look to celebrity figures as icons of success and cultural leadership. In the United States, Harry and Meghan have taken on that role, in some ways."

When they stepped down as royals, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex released a statement that they were still committed to public duty. "We can all live a life of service. Service is universal," they wrote (via People). As part of that service, the couple has spoken out against questionable media coverage. According to Vogue, the prince called out the British press in November 2016 for "the racial undertones of comment pieces." In the couple's infamous interview with Oprah Winfrey, Prince Harry also shared his struggles with tabloid journalism, stating that this "toxic environment" was a big factor in leaving his royal status behind, per The Wrap.

In addition to being outspoken, the couple has also pursued legal action. From September 2019 to November 2020, Newsweek reported that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle had six lawsuits involving the media. While 2021 was quiet in terms of legal actions, Prince Harry has begun 2022 with a libel suit against the Daily Mail (via People). Now, after a recent night out, a new legal action may be next.

Is there precedent for this potential new lawsuit?

Recently, TMZ published photos of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle eating dinner with Princess Eugenie and her husband, Jack Brooksbank. The meal took place at a restaurant in Santa Barbara, California. The 12 photos feature the couple laughing and engaging in animated conversation. Most of the photos look like they were taken outside a clear plastic barrier, perhaps a covering for outdoor dining.

Prince Harry and Princess Eugenie's relationship has been long and special, and the cousins recently attended the 2022 Super Bowl together (via Vanity Fair). According to People, both couples even went out on dates together before they each married. They also have children close in age. August Brooksbank, Princess Eugenie and Jack Brookbank's son, is four months older than Lilibet, the duke and duchess' daughter (via Hello!). Brian Hoey, a royal commentator, thinks "Princess Eugenie could be helpful in healing the relationship between the Sussexes and the Firm" (via Express).

Following the TMZ article, Newsweek reported that the couple was being told to take legal action. Mark Stephens, a media law specialist at UK firm Howard Kennedy, told Newsweek that he thought Prince Harry and Meghan Markle would and could sue any UK publishers of the photos. "I don't know whether they can get TMZ here, but it will be worth a go," he said. As a precedent, Stephens cited a successful case brought by musician Paul Weller. Weller was also dining outdoors and sued the Daily Mail for infringing on his privacy.

Reasons why the couple may or may not take legal action

As a counterargument, Tim Luckhurst, a professor and principal of South College at Durham University, doubted such a case would be successful for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. "If they claim a reasonable expectation of privacy and the shelters or screens around them are transparent, that would strike me as a slightly strange claim," he told Newsweek.

Newsweek reports that Backgrid is credited with the restaurant photos posted on TMZ. This is not the first time that this photography agency has taken pictures of the couple. Backgrid is also connected with published photos taken of sensitive moments in Harry and Meghan's lives, such as photos following the couple's miscarriage as well as photos of the duchess with son Archie at his preschool.

The New York Times described TMZ as a "celebrity gossip brand" and said it was "known for its brash, tabloid approach." Whether or not Prince Harry and Meghan Markle take legal action, or whether a lawsuit would be keeping with their desire to transform the media influence of tabloids, remains to be seen.

Prince Harry also has other ongoing legal battles

Another reason for holding back on legal action against the photos involves Prince Harry's lawsuit concerning his loss of police security when he's in the UK. After reviewing court papers, Newsweek mentioned that his lawsuit might make the Prince more unsafe. The UK's home office stated that "more information is placed into the public domain about who has public security protection and in what form, the easier it is for hostile actors to piece together such information with other material in the public domain."

To keep information out of the public domain, Prince Harry wanted to keep the paperwork confidential on these legal proceedings. However, his request was denied by government lawyers who reasoned, "the justice system must be open to scrutiny as well the right to freedom of expression of journalists" (via Newsweek). 

Prince Harry's lawsuit brought media attention to other members of the royal family who do not have police protection. In 2011, Princess Eugenie and Princess Beatrice lost their government-funded security protection. Angela Levin, a royal author, told the UK's Channel 5 that Prince Charles suggested the princesses didn't need the expensive security since "it's unlikely they will ever become working royals" (via Mirror). According to the Express, both princesses now pay for their own security, with the exception of official royal events.