What could Prince Andrew have faced in Virginia Giuffre sex abuse trial?

The Week [London, England]

February 15, 2022

Prince Andrew and Virginia Giuffre have reached an out-of-court settlement in the civil sexual abuse claim filed in the US.

According to a letter submitted to the US District Court, written jointly by Giuffre’s lawyer David Boies and the Duke of York’s legal representatives, the two parties have “reached a settlement in principle”.

The out-of-court deal will mean Prince Andrew will not face a public trial over allegations that he sexually abused Giuffre when she was a teenager. The Duke of York has always strenuously denied the allegations. 

Instead, he will make a “substantial donation to Ms Giuffre’s charity in support of victims’ rights”, according to the letter. The prince intends to demonstrate his regret for his association with Jeffrey Epstein by supporting the “fight against the evils of sex trafficking, and by supporting its victims”.

What could he have faced?

The Duke of York was facing a civil trial in the US for sexual assault allegations after failing to have the lawsuit thrown out of court in mid-January.

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

That meant that Prince Andrew was facing “the prospect of giving evidence in a high-profile trial” that would have required him to divulge “aspects of his personal life in open court”, reported The Guardian.

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 had 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”.

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 deal settled a complaint which alleged that Epstein “committed violations of federal laws, including sex trafficking”. But Judge Kaplan wrote in his judgment that “it nowhere alleges that this defendant [Prince Andrew] committed any”.

Privacy protected

Judge Kaplan’s decision left Prince Andrew facing “big decisions”, said the BBC’s royal correspondent, Sean Coughlan. “Trying to block the case using the deal between the dead paedophile Epstein and Giuffre was already heavy with reputational risks.”

Any expert witnesses for the trial would have had to have been disclosed by 13 May, according to The Guardian, while rebuttal witnesses would have been disclosed a month later. 

Discovery – defined as “the formal process of exchanging information between the parties about the witnesses and evidence they’ll present at trial” – would have gone on until 14 July, and a joint pre-trial proposal would have been filed by 28 July. 

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

If the civil case against Prince Andrew had proceeded, he would have faced the prospect of being “cross-examined on camera by one of America’s most feared trial lawyers”, said The Times. Giuffre’s lawyer, Boies, led the cross-examination of Ghislaine Maxwell which resulted in perjury charges against her. 

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

Other members of the Royal Family could also have faced questioning, including Sarah, Duchess of York, and their daughter Princess Beatrice.

The out-of-court settlement means that Prince Andrew has avoided the possibility of a “sensational” trial, The Guardian said. But a settlement could have cost “millions”. The question now, tweeted the paper’s media editor Jim Waterson, is exactly “who paid” the donation. 

There had been suggestions that Giuffre would “want her day in court”, The Guardian reported. But that could have caused “monumental reputational damage” to the monarchy in the year of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee