Analysis: Win or lose, sexual assault case is unprecedented chapter in royal family’s modern history
Last modified on Thu 13 Jan 2022 00.11 EST
The New York court ruling that the civil sex assault case against the Duke of York will proceed is a devastating blow for Prince Andrew and the royal family after more than a decade of allegation and innuendo.
Aside from any appeal Prince Andrew may be able to mount against Wednesday’s ruling, he faces the ignominious prospect of having to give evidence in a sex assault lawsuit and face cross-examination on aspects of his private life to clear his name. Win or lose, it is an unprecedented chapter in the royal family’s modern history.
One option to avoid this uncomfortable scenario would be to reach a settlement, though such is the momentum of this case worldwide it seems unlikely this could satisfactorily rehabilitate his reputation.
Since Andrew was photographed in 2010 in New York’s Central Park with the sex offender and wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein, the duke’s public image has been tarnished by association. When, in 2011, the photograph of Andrew with his arm around the waist of the then 17-year-old Virginia Roberts appeared, it further damned him in the court of public opinion.
But it was in 2015, that Roberts, now Giuffre, first alleged in legal papers she was forced to have sex with the prince – in Epstein’s New York mansion, on his private island in the US Virgin Islands, and at Maxwell’s London home.
Since then, all Andrew’s attempts to fight the allegations – which he vehemently denies – while trying to avoid a courtroom showdown, have failed.
His 2019 Newsnight interview, a high-stakes ploy, was widely derided as a car crash, and served to worsen his public standing. It resulted in the Queen making the firm and speedy decision that her second son must step away from royal duties, and from his Pitch@Palace entrepreneurial initiative.
Aside from any appeal on Judge Lewis Kaplan’s ruling, Andrew now faces the “discovery” phase, which involves the taking of depositions.
“That will involve witnesses on both sides being interviewed by the opposing legal team in the presence of their own legal team and either in the presence of a court reporter to take a verbatim transcript or with the interview being videotaped ‘for the court record’”, said Nick Goldstone, the head of dispute resolution at Ince.
“It would be possible to have Prince Andrew deposed [interviewed] in the UK, so he would not need to travel to New York for his deposition.”
“If the case progresses all the way through to a trial, I think the prince would be under enormous pressure to appear in person if he is going to give evidence in his defence. He may, of course, decline to appear, and I am certain that he cannot be compelled to appear. I think it is unlikely that he would be allowed to appear at a trial via a remote video link, and in any event, from a presentational perspective, that would not look good.”
Another option, unattractive as it may be to Andrew, would be to stop the whole process by reaching a settlement with Giuffre. “If he can’t get it struck out, he has a choice of fronting it up at trial and facing the consequences of a verdict, which may go in his favour or may not. Or settle the case on the best terms available and getting certainty by resolving the case without having to appear, ending this process, unsatisfactorily maybe, but bringing the court process to an end,” Goldstone said.
“I do think this story has now got so much momentum that it is a difficult case to settle with him having any future public life,” he added.
Since the Newsnight interview, which backfired so spectacularly, Buckingham Palace has sought to put space between the institution of the monarchy and Andrew’s legal travails. Questions about the case are routinely referred to Andrew’s legal representatives, with the Queen’s aides refusing to comment on them.
Andrew may have no current role in public life, and possibly never again will have, though he is said to harbour hopes his reputation can be rehabilitated. But he is still a member of the royal family, and as such his presence at family events continues.
When the Duke of Edinburgh died, and members of the family paid tribute in television interviews, Andrew, with the Queen’s permission, was given a prominent role in addressing the media. He visited her at Balmoral in the summer, and several times has been photographed driving from his Windsor home to Windsor Castle to see his mother.
But the Queen is 96 in April. Prince Charles and Prince William, the two next in line to the throne, will be very much taking the temperature of the nation’s mood reflected in Andrew’s plummeting standing in the polls, and both are understood to have concerns that he can ever play a public role again – even if he does succeed in clearing his name.
“The Duke of York’s reputation is so badly tarnished that if the case went to trial and he won, his rehabilitation would be minimal,” said Joe Little, the managing editor of Majesty magazine.
“The only official evidence of the Queen’s support for her second son is her agreeing to him stepping back from his royal role in late 2019 as the crisis intensified. However, as Andrew’s mother she continues to see him on a regular basis at Windsor Castle, so the personal bond is clearly still in place,” he added.
“The Queen, Charles and William, mindful of the damage being done to the institution of monarchy, may have to take decisive action before the situation goes from bad to worse.
“Official retirement as a working royal, perhaps, and the relinquishing of military appointments and patronages.”