Why Did Johnny Depp Lose The Case Against Amber? Well here is everything you need to know.
The case between Johnny Depp and the News Group Newspapers(NGN) arose as a result of The Sun newspaper, a part of the NGN franchise publishing an article titled “GONE POTTY How can J K Rowling be “genuinely happy” casting wife beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beats film?” written by Dan Wootton, an executive editor at the paper.
The article referred to Depp’s casting as Gellert Grindelwald, one of the main characters in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, based on the books by author J. K. Rowling.
The words “wife beater” were not used in the print version of the article published the following day, and were removed from the online version shortly after its publication.
However, Johnny sued NGN for the original publication.
Background of the case.
Johnny Depp is a world renown actor best known for his role as “Captain Jack Sparrow” in the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean”.
He dated an actress, Amber Heard, whom he eventually married in 2015. The couple has been in the public eye for a long time due to alleged multiple cases of domestic violence.
Amber publicly claimed in 2016 that she was a victim of abuse in the marriage. She filed for a divorce and also for a temporary restraining order (TRO) against her husband, Depp.
The divorce received a large amount of publicity. A settlement was reached in August 2016 and the divorce was finalized in January 2017.
Depp and Heard thereafter issued a joint statement saying that “…. [their] relationship was intensely passionate and at times volatile, but always bound by love. Neither party has made false accusations for financial gain. There was never any intent of physical or emotional harm.”
Depp paid Heard a settlement of US$7 million which she pledged to donate to the American Civil Liberties Union and the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
The divorce settlement also included a non-disclosure agreement preventing either party from discussing their relationship publicly.
Subject of the case.
The case was about libel. In April 2018, The Sun published the article calling Depp a wife beater. Depp sued Wootton, the author of the article and NGN for libel in the High Court of Justice in the United Kingdom.
In defamation cases, the burden to bring proof before court lies on the one alleging the said defamation.
In this case therefore, Johnny Depp, the plaintiff, was bound to bring evidence to prove his case. There are two kinds of defamation, libel and slander.
The difference is libel is written for public viewing while slander is spoken. There are certain defenses to libel one of which is truth.
This is simply because since defamation is meant to damage one’s reputation, it cannot happen where what is written is true hence the defense of truth.
In this case, the defendants put up the defense of truth. In such cases, the burden of proof shifts to the defendants that put up the defense.
They must then prove that the article published was not libelous by proving the truthfulness of the statement(s). Therefore, the burden of proof in the case shifted to them.
The standard of proof is to satisfy court on a balance of probabilities which is the test for civil cases that what was being said about Johnny in the article was true.
Proceedings in the court case.
Depp’s lawyers stated that NGN and Wootton alleged in their article that Depp “was guilty, on overwhelming evidence, of serious domestic violence against his then wife, causing significant injury and leading to her fearing for her life, for which [Depp] was constrained to pay no less than £5 million to compensate her, and which resulted in him being subjected to a continuing restraining order; and for that reason is not fit to work in the film industry.”
His lawyers claimed that, as such, “the publication of the [online and hard copy] articles has caused serious harm to his personal and professional reputation”, which could be inferred from:
- The seriousness of the allegations;
- The huge extent of publication;
- The effect of accusations of violence against women in the context of the widely known #Me Too/Time’s Up movements;
- The inclusion of quotes or purported quotes from women described as victims of Harvey Weinstein (the subject of high profile and serious criminal allegations);
- The very likely intended effect of the articles was to finish the plaintiff’s career.
In addition, Depp claimed he was entitled to damages as the article did not mention that:
- The temporary restraining order was no longer in effect;
- His denial of the allegations;
- That the LAPD police officers who visited Depp and Heard’s home in May 2016 after an alleged abusive incident concluded no crime had been committed;
- That “the articles had misquoted and/or taken out of context remarks by Katherine Kendall, a #Me Too/Time’s Up victim, and failed to correct the website article when Ms Kendall objected to being misquoted.”
They stated that Depp had a severe substance abuse disorder, which exacerbated his rage and caused him to have blackouts that made him unable to remember what he had done while intoxicated.
They alleged that Depp referred to this side of him as “the monster” and that “in periods of sobriety following Mr. Depp’s destructive rages, he recognized the problems he faced, apologized to Ms Heard and blamed what he described as “his illness”.”
Furthermore, they alleged Depp of misogyny, jealousy and controlling behaviour towards Heard NGN denied that this was a “she said-he said” case, instead stating that Heard’s allegations were backed up by “witness testimony, medical evidence, photographs, video, audio recordings, digital evidence and Mr. Depp’s own texts” and that there were also many first-hand witnesses to his aggression.
NGN stated that the fact that there were not many witnesses to the actual violence was because it had taken place behind closed doors, which is a common feature in domestic violence. NGN did allege that some violence had been witnessed by Depp’s staff members, such as Stephen Deuters, but that they had later changed their statements to be more favourable to their employer.
NGN contradicted Depp’s claim that Samantha McMillen did not see any injuries on Heard, pointing out that in her witness statement, McMillen said that she had not seen any injuries herself, but that Heard had commented to her immediately after the taping of The Late Late Show about how her hair and make-up team had been successful in covering them up.
They also alleged that ever since Heard filed for divorce in 2016, Depp had stated to other people that he wanted to end her career and to publicly humiliate her, and that his team had conducted a “campaign of vilification” against her.
They stated that Depp was using old misogynistic tropes to discredit Heard, such as trying to portray her as “a gold-digger, a shrew and an adulterer”.
Furthermore, NGN stated that Depp’s team had tried to hide text messages that would be damaging to his case, only disclosing them when ordered to do so by the judge in spring 2020, and that they had tried to prevent Heard from disclosing evidence –such as witness statements– from the Virginia case by threatening her with sanctions.
The defense produced fourteen incidents so as to prove that Depp was indeed violent to his wife and thus the statements made about him were true.
They are stated below-
Incidents #1 and #2, early 2013: Depp, under the influence of alcohol and drugs, hit and shoved Heard on at least two occasions at her home.
Incident #3, June 2013: During a weekend trip, an inebriated Depp had an altercation with a woman whom he thought had made a sexual advance towards Heard, who had previously been in a relationship with a woman.
After this, Depp and Heard returned to their rented trailer, where he threw glass at Heard and ripped her dress, as well as caused extensive damage to the trailer.
Heard also made further claims which were heard in closed court due to their nature and have not been publicly disclosed.
Incident #4, May 2014: An inebriated Depp verbally insulted, threw objects at and kicked Heard during a private plane flight.
Incident #5, August 2014: Depp shoved and hit Heard during his detox from opioids on his private island in the Bahamas.
Incident #6, December 2014: NGN claimed Depp had been violent but did not present further details.
Incident #7, January 2015: At a hotel in Tokyo, an intoxicated Depp hit Heard, grabbed her by her hair, and shoved her to the floor, not allowing her to get back up.
Incident #8, March 2015: Depp caused Heard “injuries including a broken lip, swollen nose, and cuts all over her body”, and damaged a rented house they were staying in while he was filming the fifth installment of Pirates of the Caribbean in Australia.
The incident took place over three days, during which Depp was high on drugs, and accidentally severed one of his fingers. He then used the stub to write insults about Heard to the house’s walls.
Heard also stated that he put out a burning cigarette on his own cheek.
She also made further claims which were heard in closed court due to their nature and have not been publicly disclosed.
Incident #9, March 2015: At their Los Angeles home, Depp began to destroy Heard’s possessions and hit her. When Heard’s sister, Whitney, intervened, Depp tried to attack her, which led Heard to hit him.
Incident #10, July 2015: Depp hit, pushed and choked Heard during a train trip in south-east Asia.
Incident #11, November 2015: Depp, after using drugs, pushed Heard and threw items at her.
Incident #12, December 2015: Depp assaulted Heard by hitting, shoving, head-butting, dragging her around their apartment by her hair, suffocating her with a pillow, and threatening to kill her.
The next day, Heard was to appear in The Late Late Show with James Corden.
Incident #13, April 2016: An inebriated Depp threw objects at Heard and pushed her at their LA apartment.
Incident #14, May 2016: At their LA apartment, an inebriated Depp hit Heard, threw her phone at her face and dragged her by her hair, as well as broke items.
Their neighbours and friends Elizabeth Marz, Raquel Pennington and Joshua Drew were present next door and intervened, with O Tillett Wright, who had been on the phone with Heard during the incident, calling 911.
Amber Heard also stated in her court declaration that she was verbally and physically abused throughout the relationship while her husband was under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. She testified under oath.
Depp’s (the Plaintiff) response.
He argued that his wife was trying to secure a premature financial resolution by alleging abuse.
Depp’s legal team further argued that Heard could not have been abused because she had stayed in the relationship without calling the police and had met with him once more even after filing for divorce and a TRO.
As their key evidence of a hoax, Depp’s lawyers claimed that stylist Samantha McMillen, who dressed Heard for The Late Late Show with James Corden filmed a day after an alleged violent incident in December 2015 had not seen any injuries on her.
They also alleged that following the May 2016 incident, elevator CCTV footage from Heard and Depp’s apartment building did not show her with injuries, and neither members of the apartment building staff nor the two LAPD officers who were called to Depp and Heard ‘s apartment saw any physical injuries on Heard.
As for NGN’s allegation that Heard and Depp referred to Depp’s behavior while under the influence of alcohol or drugs as “the monster”, Depp’s lawyers stated that this had been misinterpreted.
As evidence of Heard’s alleged violence, Depp’s lawyers presented two recordings of the couple’s private discussions where Heard admitted to having hit Depp and thrown items at him.
The claim also relied on witness statements by three members of Depp’s staff: Sean Bett, Kevin Murphy and Travis McGivern who alleged to have witnessed Heard being verbally abusive towards Depp.
McGivern also stated that he had seen Heard throw items at Depp in March 2015. Depp’s team claimed that the injury that Depp suffered to his finger in Australia in 2015 was caused by a bottle thrown by Heard.
Furthermore, they claimed to have evidence that Heard was emotionally volatile and that she was a habitual user of alcohol and drugs making her an unreliable witness.
The Verdict: Who won the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard lawsuit?
This trial has been heavily criticized for being biased in more than one scenario. The judge was more inclined to accept Heard’s statements and claims as opposed to Johnny’s.
Heard was a witness in the case and her evidence which was backed by her sister and her employees was accepted.
In contrast, Johnny’s evidence was mostly rejected because his statements were corroborated by his employees who were “biased” in the matter. Heard described Depp as ‘a monster’ after abusing alcohol and/or drugs.
The judge stated that Ms. Heard feared for her life as she was repeatedly battered by her husband during Depp’s violent rampages.
Heard’s evidence was disputed in certain cases where she testified to having been seriously injured and thus hospitalized. Various witnesses stated that she had no injuries.
The judge however stated that even though her nose (which she said was broken) did not appear to have been broken, there was evidence that she suffered violence in the hands of her husband.
In contrast still, Depp brought evidence before court showing his nose to have been broken as a result of Heard hitting him.
This evidence was rejected. Also, the jealousy claims against Depp were not backed by any evidence yet Heard’ s therapist had in her notes that she was the one who felt the jealousy.
The judge found the evidence brought before court to support the statements made by The Sun to be “substantially true” on twelve incidents out of the fourteen hence their defense to libel was successful.
The trial was significantly unfair to Depp who was a possible male victim of domestic violence.
Unfortunately, in the UK, the adversarial system is used in adjudication. This in essence means that there is no jury. A single judge of the high court presides over a matter.
Only the judge can make a decision based on the facts and evidence presented before him or her.
Therefore, in certain cases, the beliefs and biases and more or less connections of the judge can influence a certain case.
This is opposed to the inquisitorial system of for instance the United States where a jury is vital.
Also, it did help the defense’s case that in civil cases, the standard of proof is on a balance of probabilities.
Therefore, the evidence needn’t be overwhelming for it to be sufficient to prove a case.
Depp lost the case against NGN on claims of defamation.