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What you need to know about Prince Harry’s historic testimony

Prince Harry will make history this week when he becomes the first senior British royal to take the stand in court since the 1890s.

But the Duke of Sussex has already incurred the judge’s wrath on Monday after being unavailable to testify – just in case the opening statements unexpectedly finished early – because he delayed his flight from Los Angeles on Sunday for the birthday of his two-year-old daughter, Lilibet.

“I’m a little surprised,” said Justice Timothy Fancourt, noting he had directed Harry to be in court for the first day of his case.

The prince, who is scheduled to testify on Tuesday, UK time, is among more than 100 people suing Mirror Group Newspapers, accusing the publisher of unlawful activities, including phone hacking.

MGN publishes titles such as the Daily Mirror, the Sunday Mirror and the Sunday People tabloid papers.

MGN denies senior figures knew of wrongdoing.

The trial has been made all the more interesting with the King’s second son testifying.

Actors, sports stars, celebrities and people who simply had a connection to high-profile figures are also involved, but Prince Harry was chosen as one of four test cases to give evidence.

Significance

The last royal to give testimony in court was King Edward VII, who appeared in court twice while he was the Prince of Wales.

In 1870, Edward was caught up in a sensational divorce case, where he was accused of having an affair with Lady Mordaunt, a British MP’s wife.

Then in 1891, Edward gave evidence in a slander trial related to a game of cards.

Of course, over the years other royals have been caught up in matters before court, but they did not have to give evidence.

The most recent was Princess Anne, the daughter of the late Queen Elizabeth, who pleaded guilty to speeding in 2001 and was fined and given penalty points on her licence.

A year later, Princess Anne became the first British royal to be convicted of a criminal offence in 350 years when she pleaded guilty to failing to stop one of her dogs from biting two children.

Her brother, Prince Andrew, has had his fair share of legal troubles recently. In 2021, he was sued by Virginia Giuffre in the US for allegedly sexually abusing her when she was a teenager.

However, he settled the case out of court and he has not been charged or admitted to any wrongdoing.

Aside from history being made, Prince Harry’s appearance is also significant given his well-known dislike for the British press.

He has spoken out about how the press treated his mother, Princess Diana, and his wife Meghan Markle.

The MGN case

The trial began last month and the claimants allege MGN journalists or private investigators carried out phone hacking or committed other unlawful acts to obtain information.

Phone hacking, the illegal interception of voicemails on mobile phones, first came to public attention in 2006 when the then royal editor of Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World tabloid and a private investigator were arrested.

The claimants’ lawyer David Sherborne has said these alleged acts were done with the knowledge and approval of senior editors and executives.

MGN contests the allegations, saying senior figures deny knowing anything about hacking and had any wrongdoing concealed from them.

In court documents published on the trial’s first day back in May, the newspaper group apologised for one instance of hiring a private investigator to gather information about the Duke of Sussex at a London nightclub in 2004.

Mirror Group, owned by Reach, said it “unreservedly apologises and accepts that [Prince Harry] is entitled to appropriate compensation”.

In court, a journalist and biographer of Prince Harry said one of those who knew about the alleged hacking was former editor Piers Morgan.

Morgan is now one of Britain’s most high-profile broadcasters and an outspoken critic of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Morgan has denied any involvement in unlawful behaviour and, in turn, has accused the prince of invading the privacy of the royal family.

At the start of the trial, MGN apologised in court documents and admitted that the Sunday People had once unlawfully sought information about Harry and that he was entitled to compensation.

Prince Harry claims that 140 stories that appeared in MGN publications were a result of phone hacking or unlawful behaviour. For the trial, only 33 are being taken into account.

His lawyers claim the alleged intrusion led to the breakdown of the prince’s relationship with Chelsy Davy. The two were romantically linked from 2004 until 2010.

Prince Harry’s other legal pursuits

MGN is one of four British publishers that Prince Harry is pursuing in the High Court.

He is also suing Rupert Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers, which publishes the tabloid The Sun, over alleged phone hacking and unlawful acts.

NGN used to produce News of the World, which is now defunct.

NGN has denied The Sun was involved in any wrongdoing and is fighting to have the case thrown out.

British actor Hugh Grant is suing The Sun alongside Harry. Grant claims Sun journalists used private investigators to tap his phone and burgle his home.

Harry, along with Elton John and five others, is also taking on Associated Newspapers over phone hacking and illicit privacy breaches.

ANL publishes the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday and denies any unlawful activity. Harry is also suing the company for libel.

-with AAP

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