Today’s big question

What may Prince Andrew face at Virginia Giuffre sex abuse trial?

The duke could be cross-examined on camera by one of America’s ‘most feared trial lawyers’

Prince Andrew is facing a civil trial in the US over sexual assault allegations after failing to have the lawsuit thrown out of court.

His lawyers had called for the dismissal of the case, brought by Virginia Roberts Giuffre, citing a deal that she signed with convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein in 2009. But a New York judge has rejected Prince Andrew’s motion to have the case thrown out “in all respects”. 

The Duke of York now “faces the prospect of giving evidence in a high-profile trial”, which could see him “divulging aspects of his personal life in open court” by the autumn, reported The Guardian

The duke has consistently denied Giuffre’s allegations that he repeatedly sexually abused her when she was 17 after being trafficked by Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell.

What did the decision say?

In a settlement with Epstein, Giuffre was paid $500,000 (£370,000) to end her claims against the billionaire property tycoon and anyone connected to him who could be described as a “potential defendant” – including royalty.

Prince Andrew’s lawyers tried to argue that he was a “potential defendant” under the terms of the agreement and that therefore the case brought against him by Guiffre should be dismissed. Guiffre’s lawyers argued that only the parties of the settlement agreement could benefit from it, and not a "third party”. 

But in his decision, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan said that it was far from clear whether Prince Andrew was covered by the agreement, describing it as “ambiguous”.

As The Times explained, the complaint the deal settled alleged that Epstein “committed violations of federal laws, including sex trafficking”. 

But Judge Kaplan wrote in his judgement that “it nowhere alleges that this defendant [Prince Andrew] committed any”. 

According to Kaplan, it was also unclear whether the duke was subject to the jurisdiction of the court in Florida where Guiffre sued Epstein, even as a potential co-conspirator.

And it was unclear what Giuffre and Epstein intended by the agreement, said the judge. He said that because the agreement was “ambiguous” and there were “at least two reasonable interpretations of the critical language” in the settlement, it was not a basis to dismiss the case.

What could happen next?

“This outcome means difficult days and big decisions ahead for Prince Andrew,” said the BBC’s Royal correspondent, Sean Coughlan. “Trying to block the case using the deal between the dead paedophile Jeffrey Epstein and Virginia Giuffre was already heavy with reputational risks. 

“With that rejected, the case against him will push ahead and lawyers for Ms Giuffre and Prince Andrew will start testing each other’s stories, requiring detailed personal evidence.”

For both Giuffre and Prince Andrew “the legal clock is now ticking”, wrote the BBC’s legal correspondent Dominic Casciani. The judge has set out an “unambiguous timetable” to keep things moving towards a civil trial in the autumn.

Expert witnesses for the trial must be disclosed by 13 May, according to The Guardian, while rebuttal witnesses are to be disclosed a month later. Meanwhile, discovery – defined as “the formal process of exchanging information between the parties about the witnesses and evidence they’ll present at trial” – must be complete by 14 July, and a joint pre-trial proposal will be filed by 28 July. 

But Mitchell Garabedian, an experienced lawyer in sexual abuse cases, explained to The Guardian that the deadlines are only “a guideline”. 

“Usually in these cases, one deposition leads to another unexpected deposition and so on, for both parties. If all parties are acting in good faith, and working diligently, and there’s a reasonable need for an extension of deadlines, judges usually grant those extensions,” he told the paper. 

Now that the civil case against Prince Andrew is set to proceed, he faces the prospect of being “cross-examined on camera by one of America’s most feared trial lawyers”, said The Times. 

Giuffre’s lawyer, David Boies, led the cross-examination of Ghislaine Maxwell resulting in perjury charges against her, reported the newspaper. 

He would have “broad leeway to question Andrew on the allegations and on conversations he may have had with the Queen”.

Other members of the Royal Family could also face questioning, such as Sarah, Duchess of York, and their daughter Princess Beatrice.

One option open to Prince Andrew, who may wish to avoid a “sensational” trial, is to reach an out of court settlement with Giuffre, “possibly costing him millions, though there are suggestions she would want her day in court”, said The Guardian. 

But such an agreement could cause “monumental reputational damage” to the monarchy in the year of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. 

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