Johnny Depp’s bid to overturn ‘wife beater’ ruling reaches Court of Appeal

Sam Tobin, PA
·4-min read

Johnny Depp’s bid to overturn a damning ruling that he assaulted his ex-wife Amber Heard and put her in fear for her life will be considered by the Court of Appeal on Thursday.

The Hollywood star wants the court to order a retrial of his libel claim against The Sun over an article calling him a “wife beater”, which a High Court judge found was “substantially true”.

Following a three-week trial in July last year, Mr Justice Nicol ruled that Mr Depp, 57, assaulted Ms Heard, 34, on a dozen occasions and put her in “fear for her life” three times.

The actor is now challenging that ruling and his application for permission to appeal against it will be heard at the Royal Courts of Justice in London on Thursday morning.

Johnny Depp court case
Johnny Depp outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London in July (Yui Mok/PA)

It is not known if Mr Depp or Ms Heard will be in attendance.

Mr Depp sued The Sun’s publisher News Group Newspapers (NGN) over a 2018 column by the newspaper’s executive editor Dan Wootton, which referred to “overwhelming evidence” he attacked Ms Heard.

Following the high-profile trial, Mr Justice Nicol ruled against Mr Depp, but the actor claims he “did not receive a fair trial”.

In documents filed with the Court of Appeal, Mr Depp’s barrister David Sherborne has asked the court to “set aside the judgment and order a new trial”, claiming Mr Justice Nicol’s judgment is “plainly wrong”.

Adam Wolanski QC, representing NGN, argues Mr Justice Nicol conducted “a painstaking analysis of the evidence”, adding: “There is no basis to conclude that the judge failed to examine the evidence or provide reasons for his findings.”

In a court order issued in February, Lord Justice Underhill said an application by Mr Depp’s lawyers to rely on new evidence, which was not heard at the trial, would also be dealt with at Thursday’s hearing.

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

Johnny Depp court case
Actress 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)

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.

But Mr Depp’s legal team claim Mr Justice Nicol “failed to examine the competing accounts of each incident, or to explain whether he found them proved and, if so, on what basis”.

They also argue “the judge should have analysed the extent to which Ms Heard’s evidence undermined her credibility in relation to her allegations of physical assault/injury”.

Mr Sherborne said Mr Justice Nicol “took little or no account of the striking examples of Ms Heard’s willingness to lie or commit wrongdoing”.

In his response, however, Mr Wolanski said the trial judge’s ruling was “long and thorough, with each conclusion of fact supported by a detailed analysis of the relevant oral and documentary evidence”.

He also argued that Mr Justice Nicol “explained his assessment of the witnesses’ – especially Ms Heard’s – credibility in considerable detail”.

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

Mr Depp is currently 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 Amber Heard was recently delayed until April 2022.

The Court of Appeal hearing begins at 10.30am on Thursday and will be livestreamed on the court’s YouTube channel

It is yet not known if Lord Justice Underhill and Lord Justice Dingemans will give a ruling on Thursday, or reserve their decision to a later date.