Reality has finally caught up with Prince Andrew. His attempt to stop Virginia Giuffre from pursuing her civil damages claim against him was thrown out by a New York judge on Wednesday. Judge Lewis Kaplan’s decision meant that the case would go ahead and there was thus no good option for the Queen’s son. On Thursday, Buckingham Palace moved decisively to cut the prince loose, stripping him of his military titles, his royal patronages and his use of His Royal Highness. For the prince, it was a day of disgrace. It has been too long coming.
The Giuffre case is not just a private matter. It showcases big public interest issues that were increasingly in danger of drowning out much of the intended celebration of the Queen’s platinum jubilee this year. That may yet happen, depending on how Prince Andrew responds. The most obvious of these is the continuing case for sexual justice under the law, not least in cases involving rich and powerful men like the prince. The other issue concerns the reputational damage – whatever the outcome of the case – to the monarchy and the British state at home and abroad.
Judge Kaplan’s ruling, in a 45-page document, was emphatic. One by one, it dismantled the prince’s lawyers’ arguments for throwing out Ms Giuffre’s claim that she was forced to have sex with him in London, New York and the Caribbean when she was 17, which he denies.
Unless the prince appeals against the ruling, he now faces an inevitable phase of pre-trial exchanges before the case comes to court. This could include examination of his texts, emails, phone records and diaries, as well as deposition interviews with the prince and, perhaps, his family. For the palace, it is already the stuff of nightmares.
The prince’s options narrowed dramatically this week. He appears to have three main legal options. He could attempt to settle the matter financially in an out-of-court agreement, although he may have to borrow heavily to do this, and Ms Giuffre’s lawyers said this week that she was interested in vindication rather than just money. He could refuse to cooperate with the process, which would invite the court to issue a default judgment in favour of Ms Giuffre, which he would then also attempt to ignore – a humiliating course at every turn. Or he could cooperate with the process, which would open him to a lot of further publicity, as well as detailed cross-examination that, judging by his television interview in 2019, he is badly equipped to handle well. None of these look promising for the reputations of the prince or the monarchy.
Until now, Prince Andrew had been allowed by his family to respond to the case in his own way, as essentially a private matter, funded by the Queen and by the sale of property. He had withdrawn from public duties, but he had given no indication that he would not attempt to resume public life once the case is over, whatever the outcome. The palace’s action now means no such attempt at rehabilitation will be countenanced.
It remains to be seen whether the prince finally grasps the seriousness of his position. His approach was wrong in the first place, but it became wholly unsustainable this week. However, the legal case in New York remains a personal threat to the prince and a public one to the monarchy. As it evolves, the prince faces a crash course in what the much-vaunted idea of public duty actually entails in the modern world. It would help if faith and political leaders, as well as civil society and the media, could learn to debate our constitutional monarchy better and less deferentially. Prince Andrew must now stop running, must tell the truth in court and must accept that he will have to walk away from his public role for ever.