World·Royal Fascinator

Sex assault suit against Prince Andrew complicated by defendant's notoriety, say legal experts

Civil lawsuits are commonplace, but the legal action directed toward Prince Andrew has its own share of complexities and a broader context that sets it apart.

Duke of York has repeatedly denied sexual assault allegation at heart of legal action filed in New York

A civil lawsuit launched against Prince Andrew alleges that he sexually assaulted one of convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein’s longtime accusers when she was 17. He has repeatedly denied the allegation. (Chris Jackson/Reuters)

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Civil lawsuits are commonplace, but the legal action directed toward Prince Andrew has its own share of complexities and a broader context that sets it apart.

Lawyers for Virginia Giuffre, one of late convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein's longtime accusers, filed the suit in a Manhattan court, alleging that Andrew sexually assaulted her when she was 17.

Queen Elizabeth's second son has repeatedly denied the allegations at the heart of the suit. Giuffre, now 38 and living in Australia, has accused Andrew of forcing her to have sex with him at the London home of Ghislaine Maxwell, a longtime associate of Epstein. Giuffre also said Andrew abused her at Epstein's mansion in New York City and on Epstein's private island in the Caribbean.

The case involves what those in the legal world know as private international law — which tries to sort out civil cases that cross borders.

"What we're talking about are private citizens, whether you're a prince or regular citizen," said Trevor Farrow, a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School at York University in Toronto. "It engages different legal systems from different jurisdictions and that's what makes it complicated."

Queen Elizabeth and her second son, Prince Andrew, arrive before the start of the racing at the Ascot Racecourse in Ascot, England, on June 21, 2018. (Peter Nicholls/Reuters)

All sorts of questions arise — from what jurisdiction and court a plaintiff might choose to launch a suit in to how the suit will be served on the defendant, something that seemed to be an issue for Andrew until the other day, when court documents filed in the case showed that copies of the suit had been received by his Los Angeles-based lawyer.

"There are logistics when you're trying to serve across borders and ... it appears there are a few more logistics if you're trying to serve a member of the Royal Family, but in the end ... Ms. Giuffre's lawyers managed to get it done, so that's proceeding," said Rob Currie, a professor in the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

Once Andrew was served, he and his lawyers had 21 days to respond or face a default judgment. His lawyers could seek an extension for their response and will be preparing a statement of defence. 

All this is par for the course in civil suits, even ones with more complex international elements. 

"It's very run-of-the-mill law," said Currie. "What's unusual about this case really is not the cross-border aspect of it so much as the public notoriety that's attached."

And that could influence how the case unfolds, even if justice is supposed to be blind.

"The way a civil legal proceeding should play out is using fair process, assessing the facts of the case based on the evidence and then applying the law, whether you're a prince or any regular citizen, and public perception and social media really should be irrelevant to the legal merits of it," said Farrow.

"Having said that, everyone's human, and this is a human story, and there will be lots of pressure to negotiate and to perhaps settle and to deal with this case not just on a legal basis but also on a public perception and perhaps on a public policy basis.

"In those sorts of aspects, I think social media and public perception play a significant role."

Ideally, said Currie, public notoriety doesn't have any impact on the legal findings in a case.

"But where there's been a big media presence for it, that can impact the evidence," he said, noting that anything either party has ever said about the case can be taken into the courtroom.

"That can be a bit of a trap with cases that are big in the media. If there's been a lot of commentary, then the lawyers on the other side can go digging and find it and bring it into court and of course [Andrew's lawyers'] explicit strategy that they've been public about in this case is that they're going to go after [Giuffre's] credibility."

In this image taken from video issued by the BBC, Virginia Giuffre is shown during an interview that aired on Dec. 2, 2019, on the BBC's Panorama. (BBC Panorama/The Associated Press)

In many ways, however, there is more going on here than just a legal case, what with its connection to royalty, the troubling saga around Epstein and broader societal concerns around gender and sexual violence, among other things.

"There's a lot of social context around this case," said Currie. "We live in an era when the powerful are held more accountable for a lot of different things."

Farrow, while noting that nothing has been proven in court and everyone deserves a fair hearing, thinks one of the risks of these sorts of cases "is that everyone gets swept up and enamoured with the royalty, the prince, the nature of the defendant, his relationship with other alleged perpetrators."

"The story that often gets left off the table is the alleged victim in this case and the underlying gender issues and sexual violence issues that are at stake. 

"Those need to be front and centre and really continue to be the main storyline and learning points in this case, as opposed to simply getting caught up in the stargazing of who's potentially involved on the other side."

Becoming Diana 

Kristen Stewart portrays Diana, Princess of Wales, in the movie Spencer, which goes into wide release in theatres on Nov. 5. (Elevation Pictures)

Our friends at CBC Radio's Q with Tom Power had actor Kristen Stewart on their show the other day, ahead of the wide release on Nov. 5 of the movie Spencer, in which she plays Diana, Princess of Wales. Here's a report out of Stewart's interview.

By Vivian Rashotte

Kristen Stewart has been lauded by critics for her haunting portrayal of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, in director Pablo Larraín's upcoming historical drama, Spencer, but she wasn't confident she could pull it off at first.

Before even reading the script, Stewart said she "irresponsibly" agreed to take on the role, despite feeling unsure if she could play someone as iconic, celebrated and complex as Diana. At this stage in her career, however, she said she's compelled to say yes to projects that seem impossible.

"Having really not had an enormous interaction or relationship to the Royal Family as an entity — or Diana as anything more than a really sparkly figure that … is very, sort of, attractive — I said yes, because I thought it was scary and ambitious," she told Q's Tom Power.

Set in December 1991, Spencer imagines a precarious Christmas holiday with the Royal Family as Diana reaches a tumultuous turning point in her marriage to Prince Charles. The film sees her reclaiming her own last name, Spencer, before setting out on her tragically short-lived path to independence.

The first footage from the film released to the public was a roughly one-minute teaser trailer, which reveals only two words from Stewart, but that was enough to get audiences talking about the actor's impressive accent.

Stewart laughed as she recalled watching the teaser for the first time. "I think the trailer is great. I just was like, 'Oh, come on, give them like one more line!'"

Stewart said she knew emulating Diana's unique way of 'being and moving through the world' would also present a challenge. (Pablo Larraín)

More than just nailing the accent, Stewart knew emulating Diana's unique way of "being and moving through the world" would also present a challenge.

"I just feel like when you watch interviews with her, or you see her walk out of a building and into a car, you just, like, never know what's going to happen," she said. "And that's something that, you know, that she was just born with…. In talking about it, you realize it's like, 'Well, can I play this incredible, amazing, attractive, like, beautiful, empathetic Mother Teresa figure?' I don't know."

Luckily, Stewart had innumerable perspectives to draw on while completing her research for the role, which included several memoirs. She said she did her best to absorb what she could from those sources but chose not to focus on specific traits when it came time to shoot to keep the portrayal from feeling like a "bad impersonation."

"I never felt like, 'Oh, we need to make sure that we get this detail in there.' I just felt like the right ones would seep in and then not feel overt."

WATCH | Tom Power speaks with actor Kristen Stewart:

There was only one aspect of Diana — beyond her voice and physicality — that Stewart knew she wanted to preserve as accurately as possible in her performance.

"The one thing that I get very clearly, clearly from her is her — was her — ability to keep the little bubble around her and her boys," said Stewart. "The one thing that felt sure, the one thing that she knew, was how to be a mom…. And that was, again, daunting. I'm not a mom yet, but I just felt that so strongly. I thought that we would not have done our jobs even close to correct unless we got that."

Being a Hollywood celebrity differs from being a member of the Royal Family, but Stewart said in certain ways she can relate to Diana.

The actor commented on the "weird dichotomy" of being a public figure — both known and unknown at the same time — comparing it to how Diana's desire to connect with people was at odds with her need to escape public life.

"I can relate to that," said Stewart. "Like, I want to control how people see me, but then, also, I want to get naked in public and do movies where I completely reveal myself totally. But then, you know, not all the time…. You just want a little bit of agency and control over that."

WATCH | The official trailer for Spencer:

4 royal babies in 7 months

The Queen's 12th great-grandchild arrived the other day, when Princess Beatrice and her husband Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi welcomed their first child.

The baby girl — no name yet publicly known — was born in a London hospital on Sept. 18.

Princess Beatrice and her husband, Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi, have announced the arrival of their daughter, who was born on Sept. 18 at London's Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. Her name was not immediately revealed. (Peter Byrne/PA via The Associated Pres)

The birth caps something of a royal baby boom this year. In February, Beatrice's sister, Eugenie, and her husband, Jack Brooksbank, welcomed their first child, a boy named August. 

In March, their cousin Zara and her husband, Mike Tindall, had their third child, a son they called Lucas. And in early June, Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, welcomed their second child, daughter Lilibet (Lili).

Royally quotable

"He made time for all of us. He supported all of us — and he kept control of ... most of us."

— Peter Phillips recalls his grandfather, Prince Philip, in a BBC documentary about Philip, who died in April. 

The Duke of Edinburgh's children and their spouses, his grandchildren and members of his long-serving staff reminisced about him in the TV production that was originally planned to honour what would have been his 100th birthday in June.

The documentary also served as the public speaking debut for Prince Edward's 17-year-old daughter, Louise, who talked of the love of carriage driving she shared with her grandfather and taking part in the awards scheme he launched: the Duke of Edinburgh's International Award.

"There was certainly an element of making my grandfather proud and honouring him by taking part in the award that has been so much of his life's work. I definitely hope I have made him proud," Louise said.

Louise Windsor, shown here with her parents Prince Edward and Sophie, Countess of Wessex, in April, has been gradually assuming a more public profile. (Steve Parsons/The Associated Press)

Royal reads

  1. Controversy continues to surround Prince Charles, with new allegations involving intermediaries who reportedly took cuts for setting up meetings between wealthy donors and the Prince of Wales. [The Guardian] 

  2. The head of the Queen's Commonwealth Trust says the appointment of model Naomi Campbell as its ambassador will help keep the institution relevant. [Daily Mail]

    Naomi Campbell gives a speech as she is announced as the Queen's Commonwealth Trust Platinum Jubilee global ambassador at a central London hotel on Sept. 16, 2021. The trust focuses on supporting and uplifting young leaders around the world who are improving lives and creating opportunities in their communities. (Joel C Ryan/Invision/The Associated Press)
  3. Prince Philip's will is to remain secret for at least 90 years, to protect the "dignity and standing" of Queen Elizabeth, a British court has ruled. [BBC]

  4. Canadian performers are expected to be part of an equestrian extravaganza featuring more than 500 horses that will be staged next May in the grounds of Windsor Castle to mark the Queen's 70-year reign. [BBC]

  5. Prince Harry and Meghan made the cover of Time as they were named "icons" in the magazine's list of the 100 most influential people. The couple also made their first high-profile trip together since stepping back last year as working members of the Royal Family when they went to New York City, where they are taking part in an event urging leaders to adopt a vaccine equity policy. [Time, ITV]

  6. Judi Dench has a great love of trees and is urging others to plant them to honour the Queen. The acclaimed actor was on hand at the Chelsea Flower Show to open the Queen's Green Canopy Garden and encourage tree planting in recognition of Elizabeth's Platinum Jubilee in 2022. [Express]

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Janet Davison is a CBC senior writer and editor based in Toronto.

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