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Depp II v News Group Newspapers Ltd– Where does this case go from here?

A brief summary of the facts:

Johnny Depp (“Depp”) sued the Sun Newspaper (“Defendant”) over an online article titled “GONE POTTY How can JK Rowling be “generally happy” casting wife beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beast film?” Depp claimed that the term ‘wife beater’ was untrue and that it will cause serious harm to his reputation. The Defendants in this case relied on the Defence contained in Section 2 (1) of the Defamation Act 2013, whereby it is a defence to any defamation action if any statement is substantially true.

Under English Law there is a presumption that the statement made by the Defendant is false so the burden rests on the Defendant to show that it was true.  Therefore the Defendant had to prove the statement was true to the civil standard on balance of probabilities i.e. that it was more probable than not that Depp was, as alleged a ‘wife beater’.

The Defendant in support of their argument that the statement was true was aided by Depp’s ex-wife Amber Heard (“Heard”) who appeared as a witness on behalf of the Defendant to attest to the truth of the allegation.

The Decision

Mr Justice Nicol presiding over the case found that while the statement of wife beater would cause serious harm to Depp’s reputation, he also found, on the balance of probability that such a statement was substantially true. As out of the 14 counts of physical violence alleged against Heard 12 were proved to be substantially true at the civil standard and Justice Nichol rejected Depp’s case that this matter was all a hoax by Heard.

We can only assume that Depp was likely advised, understandably, to defend his reputation as to do nothing would be to accept the allegations made by the Defendant. However this likely advice has now done little to repair his reputation, as the majority of the allegations were upheld in the High Court.

Although the alleged offences of assault against Heard have been tried on the civil standard, which is a much lower standard than that of criminal proof i.e. beyond reasonable doubt. Ultimately, while this is a case of defamation it has had the inevitable consequence of trying Depp’s conduct and lifestyle, along with that of Heard and it does not appear that this case will be the end of the matter.

Where next?

The real and apparent conflict between Depp and Heard will continue as Depp has brought a direct defamation case against Heard in America, claiming a substantial sum in damages.

It is likely that he wanted the imminence of a UK High Court Judgment to assist in his defamation proceedings against Heard in the US, given the U.S. defamation laws are more defendant friendly as freedom of speech is enshrined in the US Constitution under the First Amendment. However, the UK High Court judgment is only persuasive in the US Courts and given the High Court Judgment has not gone in Depp’s favour it may do little to assist him in his direct case against Heard.

What is clear is that Depp and Heard will have a second round of litigation to air the allegations once again in full public view and it will be interesting to see whether the American Courts agree with the UK High Court regarding the facts of the case.

This blog was written by:  Michael Dobson

DISCLAIMER: Please note that this post sets out the general position under the general law. It should not be acted upon in any specific circumstances without taking specific legal advice as to those circumstances. Also, it should not be relied upon, acted upon or treated as a substitute for specific advice relevant to particular circumstances. If you do require specific advice please contact us for assistance.