There has finally been a “settlement in principle” with the promise of closure on the horizon for Ms Giuffre. This has no doubt been hard-fought and heavily negotiated by those involved.
Judge Lewis Kaplan has been notified of the same, has suspended all deadlines and held the action in abeyance until monies are transferred. He also somewhat ominously said “it is entirely possible that this action will be set for trial when previously indicated.”
Reputations are funny things. You might consider that they are the exclusive domains of the big brands in the world, the type of brand we eat, drink, shop and wear every day. However, they take a lifetime for all of us to build but sadly can be lost in an instant.
Prince Andrew’s reputation has always preceded him. A life of privilege but also the beneficiary of the no doubt often-hurtful title as being “a spare”.
It cannot be denied that he has been roundly tried in the Court of public opinion and has lost that battle. The Court of public opinion is one thing but a Court with powers to compel is another.
Reputation management and defamation/libel disputes do not always follow that order.
Sometimes it is possible to address allegations in private before they become very public. Once you reach the Court-issue stage, however, the position shifts.
Very few would argue that Court proceedings, as serious as they are, should not be conducted transparently. In fact many miscarriages of justice have been averted or corrected by good journalists.
The protections afforded to the press (and others) are that one can report on any documents in the public domain under cover of privilege. That cover arrives (in the UK at least) once an acknowledgment form is filed following receipt of a Claim Form. Whether they are allegations or not, proven or not, they can be reported upon.
So what does one do if they find themselves in Prince Andrew’s position?
He has made a number of bad moves. The Newsnight interview was an unmitigated PR disaster. Andrew had very little to gain and everything to lose. His detractors would take whatever he said out of context and as confirmation of their existing belief – and a poor performance would confirm to those on the fence that on the balance of probabilities they were able to form an adverse opinion.
What about his defence?
It was a lengthy document full of denials where clear-cut points were either dismissed as being vague, that more information was needed, or words to the effect, and that what he wanted to supply was a denial, but couldn’t quite make one. His “demand” for a trial by jury now looks very hollow.
The lesson here is that with a public profile like Prince Andrew’s, he should have taken every opportunity he could to settle at the pre-action stage. It has been said by Ms Giuffre’s representatives, and even in her Originating Complaint filed at Court, that numerous overtures were made to him to have such discussions, but they were rebuffed.
The agreed upon statement following provisional settlement (widely disseminated already after 12 hours or so of release) and which appeared as an attachment to a letter to the Court states:
“The parties will file a stipulated dismissal upon Ms Giuffre's receipt of the settlement (the sum of which is not being disclosed). Virginia Giuffre and Prince Andrew have reached an out of court settlement. The parties will file a stipulated dismissal upon Ms Giuffre’s receipt of the settlement (the sum of which is not being disclosed). He pledges to demonstrate his regret for his association with Epstein by supporting the fight against the evils of sex trafficking, and by supporting its victims. Prince Andrew intends to make a substantial donation to Ms Giuffre’s charity in support of victims’ rights. Prince Andrew has never intended to malign Ms Giuffre’s character, and he accepts that she has suffered both as an established victim of abuse and as a result of unfair public attacks. It is known that Jeffrey Epstein trafficked countless young girls over many years. Prince Andrew regrets his association with Epstein, and commends the bravery of Ms Giuffre and other survivors in standing up for themselves and others.”
Prince Andrew’s legal team declined to comment on the settlement. Giuffre’s lawyer, David Boies, said of the statement: “I believe the event speaks for itself.”
Given Prince Andrew’s public profile and the public’s interest in all things relating to the monarchy (and to British heritage for those overseas), this is an outcome that could and should have been avoided. The only thing worse would be to have a full-blown trial (reported upon under cover of privilege). We are reminded again of Judge Kaplan’s warning. The world will be watching.
If you have a reputation management, defamation or libel dispute and need information or advice, please get in touch with me.
Nick Goldstone, head of dispute resolution at international law firm Ince, said that Prince Andrew was left with “nowhere to go” and will have “absolutely” paid a “premium” to try and rescue his damaged reputation.