Prince Andrew isn’t known for his shy and retiring nature. That much has been clear, at least, from the saga of the Duke of York’s increasingly compromised public standing. And when a New York judge announced earlier this month that Virginia Roberts’s civil case against Prince Andrew could proceed, he was faced with two options: offer an out-of-court settlement to Roberts that would be substantial enough to deter her from her chosen path of legal action; or prepare for trial. It should hardly come as a surprise – even if it will horrify the rest of the Royal family – that he has opted to carry on fighting.
Andrew has, once again, exhibited the brass neck that has been a consistent feature of his, or his lawyers’, defence strategy throughout the whole affair. A court document filed by his attorneys notes that the Duke has denied all allegations against him and that he ‘hereby demands a trial by jury on all causes of action asserted in the complaint.’ Although this sounds grandiose, it is in fact standard legal wording; the wag who quipped that the Duke should have opted for trial by combat instead, as is royal tradition, will be disappointed.
The document not only refutes all allegations against Prince Andrew, which stretch to 71 paragraphs, but also previews several lines of strategy that will be tested during the case. These include suggesting that the case should be dismissed because too much time has passed and because of Roberts’ Australian residency, that she accepted hush-money from Jeffrey Epstein and because of ‘her own wrongful conduct.’ The notorious picture of the Duke with his hand resting on Roberts’s stomach is waved away with the words that:
‘Prince Andrew lacks sufficient information to admit or deny the allegations contained in paragraph thirty-eight of the Complaint’.
Should the case not be settled before the autumn – and many civil cases in the United States are settled out of court, for fear of the participants otherwise being drawn into a prolonged and expensive legal nightmare – then it will head to jury trial any time from September 2022. Although Prince Andrew will not himself appear in a Manhattan courtroom, he will be cross-questioned on camera by David Boies, Roberts’ lawyer. Depositions may also be obtained from any relevant witnesses, who could include the Duke’s ex-wife, Fergie, and his children, Eugenie and Beatrice.
If the case goes to court, one thing is guaranteed: it will be extraordinarily humiliating for Prince Andrew, no matter which way the trial is resolved. Intimate and private details of his anatomy and sex life, to say nothing of his standing in the Royal Family, could well be fair game for cross-examination. Even if the jury finds in his favour, he is still likely to struggle to regain his standing, both in public opinion and within the Royal Family. Should he lose the case, then the door is opened to the previously unimaginable possibility of a senior Royal being placed on trial.
After Buckingham Palace’s terse, 42-word announcement that Prince Andrew would be fighting his case as a private citizen, the Royal Family seem keen to cast the embarrassing Duke adrift. The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee this summer represents a chance for the monarchy to recover its standing after several torrid years of scandal and public relations disasters. The absence of Andrew, as well as Harry and Meghan, during the festivities will help keep matters stable. (Expect to see a lot of the Duchess of Cambridge, who ‘the Firm’ increasingly view as their best public relations asset.) But the Duke of York’s high-risk strategy will ensure that, whatever happens, this unedifying story will continue to hang over the royals for years to come.
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