Johnny Depp is seeking to appeal a High Court ruling that he assaulted his ex-wife to promote his position in an impending US trial, lawyers representing the Sun newspaper have claimed.
The actor is making a bid in the Court of Appeal to overturn the outcome of a libel case against the tabloid, in which the judge found that an April 2018 column calling Mr Depp a “wife beater” was “substantially true”.
Following a three-week trial in July last year, Mr Justice Nicol ruled that Mr Depp, 57, assaulted Amber Heard, 34, on a dozen occasions and put her in “fear for her life” three times.
The actor claims he “did not receive a fair trial” and is applying for permission to appeal against the ruling at the Royal Courts of Justice in London on Thursday.
Adam Wolanski QC, representing the Sun’s publisher News Group Newspapers (NGN), asked the court to reject the appeal, claiming he has brought the application to “promote his position” in the US where he faces a separate libel battle.
Mr Depp is suing 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.
In written submissions, Mr Wolanski said: “This court can infer that Mr Depp brings this wholly unmeritorious application for permission to appeal at least in part to promote his position in the US by continuing publicly to denigrate the supposedly ‘inequitable’ English legal process, at least until after the US trial has concluded.”
He claimed Mr Depp had told his lawyers to publicly attack Mr Justice Nicol by saying his conclusions are “perverse”, “bewildering”, “troubling” and “ridiculous”.
Mr Wolanski rejected Mr Depp’s assertion that “fresh evidence exposes a calculated and manipulative lie” by Ms Heard in relation to donations made to charities with her divorce settlement money.
After the couple divorced in 2016, Ms Heard said she would split the seven million US dollars between the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Andrew Caldecott QC, for Mr Depp, told the Court of Appeal that she gave just 100,000 dollars (£72,000) to the hospital and 450,000 dollars (£322,000) to the ACLU, although she claims she made a further 500,000 dollar (£358,000) donation to the second charity anonymously.
He said Mr Depp made an application to rely on “fresh” evidence “as a result of documents becoming available through some subpoenas in the US and through Ms Heard’s own disclosure in the Virginia defamation action”.
However, lawyers for NGN said Mr Depp could have obtained this evidence for the trial and pointed to occasions where he tried to find out what happened to the donations.
In written submissions, Mr Wolanski QC said: “The question of whether or not Ms Heard had fulfilled her pledges to the two charities had been a preoccupation of the appellant (Mr Depp) since 2016, and had been a matter which his very well-funded team of professional advisers had been very actively investigating well before this trial began in July 2020.”
Mr Wolanski said Mr Depp had “generally left no stone unturned” to pursue the High Court claim against NGN and that the actor’s legal costs alone were more than £2.4 million.
The barrister said Mr Depp “or his legal or business advisers” knew from 2016 that Ms Heard’s donation would be paid in instalments rather than a lump sum and “suspected that she would not make the payments”.
He gave an example of a text message the actor sent to his nurse in August 2016 which referred to Ms Heard as a “scumbag gold-digger”.
The text read: ““She won’t donate ONE PENNY!!!! Did you notice that it was a non disclosed charity??? She’s been pushing Art of Elysium for years!!!! And, what about battered women???
“No Way she’ll give a dime to anyone!!! Thank f*** she’s gone!!!
“Makes me sick to think of how hard I tried to make it work… Now… Honestly, I wouldn’t touch that f***ing whore with a Hazmat suit on!!! What scum. I f***ing hate her!!!”
Mr Wolanski said Mr Depp or his advisers had also asked questions about whether payments had been made and had asked Ms Heard to admit in the US proceedings against her that she had not donated the divorce settlement.
He said Mr Depp had been sent a letter in June 2019 by the children’s hospital which said “since the first instalment, CHLA Foundation has not received further instalments”.
Mr Depp had also publicised the issue by tweeting there were “7 million questions” to ask about Ms Heard’s donations and released a statement to the media that there was a “trail of unanswered questions” about Ms Heard’s relationship with the ACLU, Mr Wolanski said.
“Against this background, it is ludicrous to suggest that the further evidence which the appellant now seeks to adduce could not with reasonable diligence have been obtained before the trial and that it simply ‘never occurred’ to the appellant to cross-examine Ms Heard about this issue,” they added.