Prince Andrew will face civil court proceedings in the US for sexually abusing a 17-year-old girl, a judge ruled on Wednesday. But what does that mean, and what can we expect to see from a trial in the US?
According to court documents, Virginia Roberts Giuffre – the accuser – claims that she was sex trafficked and abused by disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein and his partner, British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell. Both of them were friends with Prince Andrew.
Giuffre says she was sexually abused three times by the Prince when she was 17 as part of a sex trafficking ring in the early 2000s.
As this is the first time a Royal has faced civil proceedings for sex abuse in America, there is a lot of uncertainty regarding the outcome of the trial. The proceedings are likely to be expensive, especially if the Prince settles with Giuffre or is fined by a US court, and there is no clear timeline for the case.
Prince Andrew has consistently denied all allegations against him, but no matter what the outcome of the case, it is likely to further damage the Prince’s already fragile reputation.
Prince Andrew’s legal team had hoped to throw Giuffre's case out on the grounds that he was protected by a previous settlement between her and Epstein. But federal judge Lewis Kaplan rejected their argument, and delivered a 44-page ruling that said it was too ambiguous to consider Prince Andrew clearly exempt.
“Prince Andrew's lawyers have been really running a campaign of stonewalling, that is that they've been taking every legal point that they're entitled to as a matter of law,” Mark Stephens, head of media litigation at UK law firm Howard Kennedy told VICE World News. “Most of those have been completely unmeritorious… But they have adopted this policy of stonewalling partly because they can see it delaying the trial.”
“What Judge Lewis Kaplan has done is effectively throw a judicial bomb into the heart of the Royal Family,” said Stephens, “which has the prospect of
creating a constitutional crisis not in a formal legal sense, but in a realpolitik kind of way.”
The Prince is now left with a skeleton team behind him after various lawyers and advisors have departed his inner circle following disastrous PR moves. The Prince is likely to be supported by Andrew Brettler, an American lawyer who charges up to £1,500 an hour and Gary Bloxome, a UK solicitor and partner at Blackfords.
What are the allegations?
Giuffre claims that she was lent out to powerful men for sex by Maxwell and Epstein, one of whom was Prince Andrew. She claims she was sexually abused three times by the Prince while she was under the age of 18. Both Epstein and Maxwell have been convinced of charges related to sex trafficking. Maxwell’s lawyers say she plans to appeal her conviction.
What has Prince Andrew said?
Prince Andrew’s legal team has denied all accusations.
In a disastrous interview with BBC’s Newsnight in 2019, Prince Andrew claimed he was having dinner in a Pizza Express in Woking with Princess Beatrice, his daughter, on the night Giuffre claims one of the alleged incidents took place.
The Prince also bizarrely claimed that he couldn’t sweat due to an “overdose of adrenaline” after being shot at in the Falklands war, hoping to undermine Giuffre’s claim he was in a nightclub with her in 2001.
Can he really not sweat?
It’s still unclear. Prince Andrew’s lawyers have said he has no documentation to prove he is unable to sweat. Some experts have said that the condition, called Anhidrosis or Hypohidrosis, is unlikely to occur in people who were not born with it.
Has this ever happened before?
While the Royals often go to court – the most recent example being Meghan Markle’s successfully suing the Mail on Sunday for an invasion of her privacy – this is the first time a Royal has faced civil proceedings for sexual abuse claims.
What’s likely to happen in the trial?
Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor and president of West Coast Trial Lawyers, told VICE World News that it’s unlikely Prince Andrew will appear in person.
“I think that Giuffre will likely prevail,” says Rahmani. “The standard is a lot lower in a civil case. And I think that if David Boies [Giuffre’s lawyer] and Giuffre call multiple victims, that's going to be enough to overwhelm the defence. And it's going to be hard for [Prince Andrew] to defend the case if he’s not physically here.”
If Prince Andrew doesn’t turn up, then it is likely Giuffre will be inclined to take a settlement, as any fee landed on the Prince by a US court would be difficult to extract in the UK.
“The quirk of law means that the damages can't be enforced in the United Kingdom,” says Stephens. “And Prince Andrew has no assets in America. So that leaves you in a position where his nuclear option is to say, Well, I'm not turning up, do your worst. And then she gets a vindication, but no money. So I believe that the lawyers will push her to a point right where she settles, it will be a high price to settle.”
Will taxpayers foot the bill for a fine or settlement?
There has been some speculation that the Prince’s legal fees have come from taxpayer money. David McClure, author of The Queen’s True Worth, told the Daily Mail: “Prince Andrew's finances are shrouded in a fog of pea soup impenetrability… And no one really knows how he can live such an affluent lifestyle with no discernible earned income so maybe loans… give a clue as to where the money comes from.”
However, it is more likely any money Prince Andrew may have to pay will derive from the recent sale of an £18 million ski chalet based in Verbier in the Swiss Alps.
“Essentially, he's preparing himself in my judgement for settlement negotiation,” said Stephens. “And whilst he won't have netted all of that £18 million, he has a significant amount of money not only to pay his own lawyers but to pay off a settlement with Virginia Giuffre from his own resources.
“Of course, members of the public I think will decide whether or not it's said to be without admission of liability, which is often the case in these sorts of circumstances,” he added. “I suspect that the sum of money will be so huge that it will telegraph to the members of the public – they will read it, whether rightly or wrongly as an admission of guilt.”
It’s not likely to be cheap, either. “These [sums] can be significant,” said Rahmani. “Seven, sometimes eight-figure jury verdicts. So you're talking about millions of dollars, potentially, if not more. So. Being raped as a child is one of the worst things that can happen to an individual, so these are valuable claims.”