When Prince Harry takes the stand in a phone-hacking case on Tuesday, it will mark another milestone in his singular journey: He will be the first senior royal to testify in court since 1891, when the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, testified in the case of a man accused of cheating at a game of baccarat.
Yet for Harry, the court appearance is, in many ways, just another chapter in what has become a life of litigation.
Harry and his wife, Meghan, are plaintiffs in no fewer than seven cases against the British tabloids and other media organizations for phone hacking and other violations of their privacy. Harry has also filed two claims against Britain’s Home Office related to the loss of his police protection during trips to his home country.
As the cases grind through the legal system, Harry’s visits are now as likely to be tied to courtroom dates as to royal ceremonies like the coronation of his father, King Charles III, which he attended last month. On Monday, Harry arrived from Los Angeles to testify in a lawsuit against Mirror Group Newspapers, which he accused of hacking his cellphone more than a decade ago.
Before the coronation, the last time he came was in March to appear in court, alongside the pop star Elton John, in a case against the publisher of the Daily Mail on charges of tapping his cellphone. He is also suing Rupert Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers for hacking and other privacy violations.
For Harry, who now largely supports himself, the litigation has been expensive and time-consuming. People who know him say he did not expect, when he brought the suits, that they would drag on for so many years. Going to war against the tabloids has not helped his image in Britain, where his popularity has already been tarnished by his bitter split with his father and older brother, William.
But the court appearances do give him a platform to press what he has cast as one of his life’s missions: Curbing the excesses of the tabloids, which he and Meghan have accused of upending people’s lives “for no good reason, other than the fact that salacious gossip boosts advertising revenue.”
“He is taking action over alleged illegality, alleged abuse of power,” said Peter Hunt, a former royal correspondent for the BBC. “That is quite a courageous move, which is not an adjective often seen next to the name Harry.”
The prince’s campaign against the tabloids sets him apart from other members of the royal family, who have tried to accommodate the papers. On Monday, as the trial opened, the front page of The Sun carried a flattering photo of William’s wife, Princess Catherine, above a headline that said, “I’m proud to back Sun appeal,” referring to a charity campaign sponsored by the newspaper.
Since Harry left Britain in 2020, he has gone a long way toward taking back control of his narrative from the tabloids. Between his tell-all memoir, “Spare,” and a Netflix documentary with Meghan, Harry will have little new information to disclose on the stand, Mr. Hunt predicted.
Instead, Harry is expected to describe a pattern of hacking that led to prison terms for multiple journalists; precipitated the closing of Mr. Murdoch’s News of the World tabloid; set off a major public investigation, the Leveson Inquiry; and resulted in voluntary restrictions on the papers.
On Monday, Harry’s lawyer, David Sherborne, began laying out the details. The Mirror Group, he said, intercepted the prince’s voice mail messages, paid private investigators to gather information about him, and employed photographers who used unlawful means to track the whereabouts of Harry and those close to him, including his former girlfriend, Chelsy Davy, whose cellphone was also hacked.
To illustrate their case, Harry’s lawyers submitted 147 articles that it said were based on information obtained using illegal means. These covered a stretch from his childhood through his school years and the years following the death of his mother, Princess Diana, who was killed in a car crash in 1997 after being pursued by photographers.
“Every facet of his life was splashed across the paper as an exclusive, a story too good not to publish,” Mr. Sherborne said. “Nothing was sacrosanct or out of bounds, and there was no protection from these unlawful information gathering methods.”
Many of the journalists who used those methods are still employed by The Mirror, and some have risen to positions of authority in the company, Mr. Sherborne said. “The notion that this took place years ago is misplaced,” he said.
Still, that is the nub of the case made by the Mirror Group’s lawyers. Because the bulk of this activity took place between 1991 and 2011, the lawyers said in a filing, it lies well beyond the six-year time limitation that generally applies to legal complaints of privacy violations. The practice of phone hacking has all but vanished since the scandal erupted in 2011, according to lawyers who specialize in these cases.
Lawyers for Harry and three other plaintiffs in the case counter that the company concealed its illegal activity from them, so they could not reasonably have been expected to discover it sooner. In addition to Harry, the others are Nikki Sanderson and Michael Taylor, who both appeared in the popular TV series “Coronation Street,” and Fiona Wightman, the former wife of a well-known comedian, Paul Whitehouse.
Daniel Taylor, a lawyer whose firm, Taylor Hampton, represents Ms. Wightman, said it was extraordinary that the trial was going ahead at all. It is only the second such case to go to trial after dozens of cases, and more than decade of hacking-related litigation, he said, and it poses risks to both sides.
Harry, he said, “is likely to be subjected to rigorous and sustained cross-examination” by lawyers representing Mirror Group. That could prove embarrassing, given that the hacking took place during the years before Harry met his wife, Meghan, when he was single and involved in sometimes turbulent relationships.
But the Mirror Group is also taking a risk in going to trial, Mr. Taylor said, since a defeat could encourage other victims of hacking to come forward. “It is willing to do so because a win or partial success at trial will, in its view, slow or stop the oncoming tide of claims being brought against the company,” he said.
On Monday, Harry managed to irritate the judge, Timothy Fancourt, by not showing up for the trial as expected. Mr. Sherborne explained that he had stayed in California on Sunday to celebrate the second birthday of his daughter, Lilibet, and would be in court to testify on Tuesday and Wednesday. A lawyer for the Mirror Group expressed concern that he would not get a full day and a half for cross-examination.
Some royal watchers said it was a sign of Harry’s polarizing reputation in Britain that the media coverage before the trial focused on whether testifying would diminish his stature rather than on the journalism issues at stake.
“The kernel of what he’s trying to do is being watered down,” said Mr. Hunt, the former BBC correspondent. “It’s almost as if phone hacking is priced in,” he said, adding, “it wasn’t priced in if you were the victim.”