Johnny Depp to find out if he can appeal against ‘wife beater’ ruling

Sam Tobin, PA
·5-min read

Johnny Depp is about to find out whether he can bring an appeal against a damning High Court ruling that he assaulted ex-wife Amber Heard and left her in “fear for her life”.

Following a three-week trial in July last year, Mr Justice Nicol dismissed the Hollywood star’s libel claim against the publisher of The Sun, finding that an April 2018 column calling Mr Depp a “wife beater” was “substantially true”.

The judge ruled Mr Depp, 57, assaulted Ms Heard, 34, on a dozen occasions and put her in “fear for her life” three times.

The actor has asked the Court of Appeal to grant permission for him to challenge the ruling, with the aim of having its findings overturned and a retrial ordered.

At the hearing last week, Mr Depp’s lawyers asked the court to consider fresh evidence relating to what they said was Ms Heard’s claim that she gave her seven million US dollar (£5.5 million) divorce settlement to charity.

A poster on the railing outside the court
A poster in support of Johnny Depp was hung outside the court ahead of the hearing (Yui Mok/PA)

Mr Depp’s barrister Andrew Caldecott QC told the court that claim was a “calculated and manipulative lie”.

After the couple divorced in 2016, Ms Heard said she would split the seven million dollars between the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

But, Mr Caldecott said, the hospital wrote to Mr Depp’s business adviser in 2019 to say Ms Heard had not made “any payments”.

The court heard just 100,000 dollars (£72,000) was donated to the hospital and 450,000 dollars (£322,000) to the ACLU, although Ms Heard claims she made a further 500,000-dollar (£358,000) donation to the second charity anonymously.

Mr Caldecott said the claims had given Ms Heard “a considerable boost to her credibility as a person”, and had “tipped the scales against Mr Depp from the very beginning”.

In November, Mr Justice Nicol rejected Mr Depp’s contention that Ms Heard was a “gold-digger”, saying in his ruling: “Her donation of the seven million US dollars to charity is hardly the act one would expect of a gold-digger.”

But Mr Caldecott argued that if “the truth about the charity claim emerged at the trial, it would have materially affected Mr Justice Nicol’s consideration of Ms Heard’s evidence as a whole”.

He said the fact Ms Heard publicly donated her divorce settlement to charity was relevant to “the likelihood of her being a victim of grave domestic violence”.

Mr Caldecott said the donation was “a wholly remarkable act of philanthropy, if true”, adding it was also “a potent subliminal message: ‘I want him to pay, but I do not want to keep a dime of his money because of the way I have been treated’”.

He told the court: “In the context of this case, it implies revulsion at the way he has treated her physically.”

Johnny Depp court case
Amber Heard made a statement on the steps of the Royal Courts of Justice in London on the final day of the trial (Victoria Jones/PA)

But Adam Wolanski QC, representing The Sun’s publisher News Group Newspapers (NGN), said the new evidence Mr Depp wanted to rely on “would not have had any impact” on the result of the trial.

He said the issue of donating the settlement to charity was only of relevance to “the so-called ‘gold-digger’ thesis, and that was of course a thesis that was expressly abandoned by Mr Depp’s legal team during the trial”.

Mr Wolanski added: “The labelling of Ms Heard as a gold-digger was a misogynistic trope. The gold-digger theory was hopeless.”

He also rejected Mr Depp’s contention that Ms Heard had lied about donating her divorce settlement to charity, saying: “The information does not demonstrate that Ms Heard lied.”

Mr Wolanski added that Ms Heard had paid “in total, some 950,000 dollars to the ACLU and 850,000 dollars to the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles”.

On Thursday morning, Lord Justice Underhill and Lord Justice Dingemans will give the court’s ruling on whether Mr Depp can bring an appeal against the High Court judgment.

The Court of Appeal’s decision will be announced at the Royal Courts of Justice in London at 10am.

Johnny Depp’s barrister, David Sherborne (right) arrives at the Royal Courts of Justice
Johnny Depp’s barristers Andrew Caldecott QC and David Sherborne at the Royal Courts of Justice (Yui Mok/PA)

Mr Depp sued NGN in June 2018 over the column by The Sun’s executive editor Dan Wootton, which referred to “overwhelming evidence” he attacked Ms Heard.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Nicol concluded 12 of the 14 alleged incidents of domestic violence relied on by NGN in its defence of the actor’s claim did occur.

The judge also found Mr Depp put Ms Heard in “fear for her life” on three occasions, including one the actress described as a “three-day hostage situation” in Australia in March 2015.

Days after the ruling in November, Mr Depp announced he had been asked by Warner Brothers to resign from his role in the Harry Potter spin-off franchise Fantastic Beasts – a role that prompted Mr Wootton to ask how JK Rowling could be “genuinely happy” that Mr Depp was cast in the film.

Mr Depp is embroiled in a separate libel battle in the US, having sued Ms Heard personally over a 2018 Washington Post opinion piece in which she claimed to be a victim of domestic abuse but did not mention the actor by name.

The actor’s 50 million dollar (£35 million) US case against Ms Heard was recently delayed until April 2022.