The Duke of York can be tried over allegations he sexually assaulted Virginia Giuffre when she was underage after a US judge ruled her civil lawsuit can proceed.
Judge Lewis A Kaplan’s decision is a huge blow for Andrew, whose lawyer argued earlier this month the case should be thrown out as Ms Giuffre had waived her right to pursue the duke by signing a confidential settlement with disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein.
The Queen’s second son could pursue an out of court, and potentially multimillion-pound, settlement, but there have been suggestions Ms Giuffre may not be prepared to accept a deal.
Media lawyer Mark Stephens said: “Andrew has got no good options now. He can’t make things better.”
He told the BBC: “Essentially, I think he’s either going to have to engage in the trial process or he’s going to have to settle and that may well be his least worst option.”
Andrew could ignore the case, meaning by default there would be a finding against him, or he could fight it out, meaning he would have to give a deposition under oath and the sexual assault allegations would be explored in open court.
Buckingham Palace declined to comment, saying: “We would not comment on what is an ongoing legal matter.”
The development comes just two days after the Palace unveiled the full programme of events for the Queen’s historic Platinum Jubilee.
2022 is meant to be a period of celebration for the royal family, but the monarch and senior royals face the prospect of the duke’s accuser giving a detailed account of her allegations in court this autumn.
The institution of the monarchy is likely to be damaged by Ms Giuffre’s case, which will be heard in New York and make headlines across the globe.
But the reputational damage in the public’s eyes of a member of the royal family financially settling such a lawsuit could also be monumental.
Andrew’s reputation has already been irreparably tarnished by his friendship with Epstein, a convicted sex offender, and he withdrew from public duties soon after his disastrous 2019 Newsnight interview failed to draw a line under his relationship with the disgraced financier.
In the conclusion of his written ruling, Judge Kaplan said: “For the foregoing reasons, defendant’s motion to dismiss the complaint or for a more definite statement is denied in all respects.
“Given the court’s limited task of ruling on this motion, nothing in this opinion or previously in these proceedings properly may be construed as indicating a view with respect to the truth of the charges or counter-charges or as to the intention of the parties in entering into the 2009 Agreement.”
Outlining his reasons for denying the motion, Judge Kaplan said the court was not able at this stage to consider the duke’s efforts to cast doubt on Ms Giuffre’s claims or whether he was covered by the settlement agreement, suggesting these were issues for a trial.
He said: “The 2009 Agreement cannot be said to demonstrate, clearly and unambiguously, the parties intended the instrument ‘directly’, ‘primarily’, or ‘substantially’, to benefit Prince Andrew.”
Ms Giuffre is suing the Queen’s son for allegedly sexually assaulting her when she was a teenager.
She is seeking unspecified damages, but there is speculation the sum could be in the millions of dollars.
Ms Giuffre claims she was trafficked by Epstein to have sex with Andrew when she was aged 17 and a minor under US law.
The duke has vehemently denied the allegations and his legal team has argued from the lawsuit’s first hearing that the case is “baseless”.
The settlement between Ms Giuffre and Epstein, made public earlier this month, detailed how Andrew’s accuser had received a 500,000 US dollar (£370,000) payout in 2009 and agreed to “release, acquit, satisfy, and forever discharge” the disgraced financier and “any other person or entity who could have been included as a potential defendant”.
Andrew B Brettler, the duke’s lawyer, had argued during a virtual hearing his client was a “potential defendant” as defined by the agreement and so the case “should be dismissed”.
The lawyer said a potential defendant would be someone Ms Giuffre knew she had “claims against at the time that she filed the lawsuit” in 2009 against Epstein, whose former girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell was convicted on December 29 of procuring teenage girls for him.
In his counter-argument David Boies, Ms Giuffre’s lawyer, said only the parties of the settlement agreement – Epstein and Ms Giuffre and their associates – could benefit from it, and not a “third party” such as Andrew.
He added the duke would not be a “potential defendant” as referred to in the settlement, as the 2009 lawsuit made no allegation the duke had trafficked individuals for illegal sexual activity.
The lawyer told the hearing, held to hear arguments about dismissing the case: “He was somebody to whom the girls were trafficked – that’s a different criteria.”