Dubai: A US judge ruled on Wednesday that a sexual assault lawsuit brought against UK’s Prince Andrew can move forward.
New York judge Lewis Kaplan said he "denied in all respects" Andrew’s motion to dismiss the civil complaint by accuser Virginia Giuffre, who says the prince abused her when she was 17.
Giuffre alleges that late disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein lent her out for sex with his wealthy and powerful associates, including to Andrew, an allegation that Queen Elizabeth II's second son has repeatedly and strenuously denied.
On Thursday, the Royal Family removed Prince Andrew's military links and royal patronages and said he will no longer be known as "His Royal Highness".
"With the queen's approval and agreement, The Duke of York's military affiliations and royal patronages have been returned to the queen," Buckingham Palace said in a statement.
"The Duke of York will continue not to undertake any public duties and is defending this case as a private citizen."
A look at the ruling and where the case stands:
What is the case about?
Virginia Roberts Giuffre, 38, (pronounced with a hard ‘g’ and silent ‘s’ – like ‘ghee’) also known as Virginia Roberts, sued Prince Andrew in New York in 2021, claiming that the royal, a friend of late financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, raped her when she was 17.
The incident allegedly took place at the London home of Ghislaine Maxwell, a British socialite and Epstein's longtime associate, at the properties owned by Epstein.
What was the ruling?
US District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan's ruling on Wednesday in New York didn't address the truth of the allegations at all. It dealt with narrow legal challenges raised by Andrew’s lawyers, who said the lawsuit should be dismissed now, at an extremely early stage.
They had argued that when Giuffre settled a similar lawsuit against Epstein in 2009 for $500,000, she had signed away her right to sue any other potential defendants. They also questioned the constitutionality of a New York state law that temporarily waived the usual statute of limitations for lawsuits brought by victims of childhood sexual abuse, AP reported
The ruling was expected. Kaplan had all but ruled against Andrew last week when he shot down nearly every argument offered by the Duke of York's lawyers.
What comes next?
There is a lot more ground to cover before the case gets to trial.
Andrew’s lawyers could appeal the ruling. They will have opportunities to try to get the case dismissed on other grounds.
As the case develops, the two sides must exchange potential evidence - such as emails, text messages and telephone records - and submit to depositions at which lawyers can question potential trial witnesses.
Giuffre has been through many such depositions before in lawsuits against Maxwell and other people, but Andrew has never been questioned about the matter under oath -something he may want to avoid at all costs.
Once the exchange of evidence concludes, defence lawyers often make a new request to toss out the case judging by what they've learned. The judge then makes rulings that may help lawyers understand the risks of going to trial.
Before trial, a judge rules on what evidence can be shown to a jury, giving lawyers another opportunity to assess their chances of scoring a victory before a jury.
So, will the case get that far?
Andrew may want to settle the case quickly, rather than let Giuffre's attorneys seek to question him under oath, which could cause him problems later.
Andrew is may also face pressure to settle to avoid sensational headlines that damage the reputation of the royal family.
Can Andrew appeal?
Yes. His attorneys can ask the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn Kaplan's decision.
If that fails then theoretically they could take the case to the US Supreme Court, however legal analysts are skeptical about whether justices would choose to hear it.
An appeal would delay proceedings.
What could the likely outcome be?
In the absence of an outright dismissal, most civil litigation in the US ends in some sort of settlement. Dozens of women, for example, have filed lawsuits against Epstein and onetime movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.
None so far have resulted in a trial.
A deadline of January 14 has been set for the parties to file "letters rogatory," which are formal requests for assistance from a court in one country to another court in a foreign country.
They are usually filed to obtain evidence from a witness. Giuffre's attorney, David Boies, said in November that testimony would be sought from two unnamed people in Britain. Kaplan wants to know who all the witnesses are by mid-June.
He has told both sides to complete discovery by July 14. Discovery is the exchanging of information that is to be presented at trial, including emails and text messages, and includes depositions under oath.
Does Andrew’s royal status have any impact on the case?
Diplomats are often entitled to a certain degree of legal immunity in the countries in which they are posted. Heads of state such as Queen Elizabeth II are entitled to a degree of immunity as well.
Andrew does not appear to fit either category, said Craig Barker, a law professor at London South Bank University, Reuters reported.
Will Andrew have to give evidence?
Once he is deposed he would have to sit down and answer questions by Giuffre's attorneys. It would likely happen in Britain.
"It's in a more informal setting than a courtroom but it can be very lengthy, take many, many hours, and it can be aggressive," former prosecutor Bennett Gershman told AFP.
Andrew’s answers would be submitted as evidence in the event of a jury trial to settle Giuffre's claim for unspecified damages.
If Andrew was to lie during the deposition then he could subject himself to a later charge of perjury.
Will there be a trial?
If Giuffre and Andrew do not settle then the case will proceed to a civil trial that Kaplan has said would likely occur between September and December this year. There, a jury would decide if Andrew owes Giuffre damages.
Could criminal charges follow?
No criminal charges can directly result from the lawsuit but the suit itself does not stop the government from filing a criminal case against Andrew if they believe a crime has been committed.
Media reports in Britain say Andrew would not have diplomatic immunity but prosecutors believe it would be very difficult to get him extradited to the United States, AFP reported.
What do we know about Giuffre?
Virginia Roberts Giuffre first met Maxwell in 2000 at the age of 17, when working as a spa assistant in Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club where Giuffre’s father worked as a maintenance manager.
After being approached by Maxwell and asked if she was interested in massaging, Giuffre was offered a job as a masseuse to Epstein, reports say. According to Giuffre’s claims, Epstein and Maxwell then began grooming her - under the guise that she was training to be a professional massage therapist.
After travelling with Epstein and providing him and his friends with massages and sexual services, Giuffre was allegedly trafficked to Prince Andrew in 2001. Andrew insists the claims are not true.
Later, Giuffre began living a quiet family life in Australia after meeting Robert Giuffre, an Australian martial arts trainer, while at a massage school in Thailand in 2002, reports say.
She then cut off all contact with Epstein and Maxwell – until the first police investigation into Epstein began in 2007.
Despite filing several lawsuits under ‘Jane Doe’, the first public allegation against Epstein from Giuffre came in 2011.
Since then, Giuffre has continued her work in fighting sex trafficking and in seeking justice for survivors of Epstein’s trafficking ring. She has appeared in several documentaries and interviews, including a BBC Panorama special in 2019 and a four-part Netflix series in 2020.
What happened to Epstein and Maxwell?
Epstein died by suicide in a Manhattan jail cell in 2019 at the age of 66 while awaiting trial on sex abuse charges.
Maxwell, 60, was convicted on December 29 of sex trafficking and other crimes. The verdict capped a month-long trial featuring sordid accounts of the sexual exploitation of girls as young as 14, told by four women who described being abused as teens in the 1990s and early 2000s at Epstein’s palatial homes in Florida, New York and New Mexico.
Is Giuffre’s lawsuit related to Maxwell’s conviction?
No. Giuffre did not testify in Maxwell’s criminal trial, and her allegations did not form the basis of any of the six sex abuse counts against Maxwell.
What happens to Ghislaine Maxwell next?
Ghislaine Maxwell needs to be sentenced, but a date has yet to be set. A family statement said an appeal had already been started. And she faces another trial, on two counts of perjury that were spun off from her indictment, AP reported.
What was Maxwell’s relationship with Epstein?
They were romantically involved, but at some point she says she transitioned to being more of an employee, running his household (Epstein had homes all over the place: Palm Beach, Florida, New Mexico, Manhattan, a private island in the US Virgin Islands, Paris). Prosecutors introduced records showing Epstein had paid Maxwell more than $20 million through the years and accused her of functioning as Epstein’s madam, procuring underage girls to satisfy him sexually.
Who is Maxwell’s husband?
A mystery man! She was living with him when she was arrested in New Hampshire, but court documents have not made his name public. He did support her bail attempts, but was never spotted at the trial. She had transferred most of her assets to him, but has also told officials they’re in the process of divorcing.
- With inputs from AP, AFP and Reuters